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CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Dais Today, Data Tomorrow

Massachusetts delegates who arrived at Time Warner Cable Arena early rest before the final night of the Democratic National Convention. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Massachusetts delegates who arrived at Time Warner Cable Arena early rest before the final night of the Democratic National Convention. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing is being published from the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week. For more information on signing up to receive this free email, click here.

THE PODIUM: A two-week run of great American political theater comes to an end tonight. The final act starts at 10:10, when Barack Obama takes the stage for his soliloquy. It’s the most-watched and unfiltered opportunity he’ll have in the precisely two months before Election Day to explain why he deserves to become only the third Democratic president in eight decades to win a second term.

Biden gets his half an hour in the spotlight at 9:30 — the decidedly secondary role assigned to make room for Bill Clinton’s captivating if undisciplined “third way” master class. (Biden was the Wednesday night main event four years ago, as were John Edwards, Joe Lieberman and Al Gore before him.) NBC, which is making up for skipping last night’s coverage in favor of the Cowboys-Giants game, will be the only broadcast network carrying the speech.

John Kerry will be “reporting for duty” to deliver the night’s No. 3 speech, a defense of the administration’s foreign policy and an excoriation of the Republican approach to global affairs that he hopes will help propel him from Senate Foreign Relations chairman to secretary of State next year. Others speakers whose clips may get replayed tomorrow include Caroline Kennedy, John Lewis, Jennifer Granholm, Brian Schweitzer and Charlie Crist.

The decision to move the final night inside came too late to orchestrate a traditional balloon drop, but convention planners are promising some telegenic and creative alternative. The “surprises” that have already leaked include Gabby Giffords’ leading the Pledge of Allegiance soon after the session convenes in a few minutes and a trio of Hollywood A-listers (Eva Longoria, Kerry Washington and Scarlett Johansson) offering a glamorous and on-message counterpoint to last week’s grumbling and rambling Clint Eastwood.

THE TICKET: “We can’t let a little thunder and lightning get us down,” Obama said on a short, low-key conference call this afternoon with several thousand supporters holding no-longer-valid tickets to hear him in person in the Panthers stadium. (The abundance of caution cited when the venue was switched yesterday looks to prove over-abundant; the forecast now is for no more than widely scattered showers moving through the area before prime time.) The president is spending the rest of the day at his hotel and didn’t come to the Time Warner Cable Arena for the customary pre-convention-address walkthrough. Biden is also off-camera until tonight.

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden assembled care packages for returning troops (shampoo, razors, wash cloths) this morning and then addressed a lunchtime throng of the convention’s women delegates; the second lady will introduce the vice president tonight. The running mates and their wives will open the general campaign together tomorrow with rallies in Portsmouth, N.H., and Iowa City.

THE OTHER TICKET: Romney finished his third day of debate school in Vermont and drove back to his lake house in New Hampshire, where he’ll presumably tune in tonight. He’ll come out of seclusion tomorrow for “victory rallies” at lunchtime in Orange City, Iowa (population 6,000), and suppertime at the summer league ballpark in Nashua, N.H. Ryan is on a flight to Los Angeles after offering his regular stump speech promise — to get the county of its path of “debt, doubt and decline” — at a rally in Colorado Springs. His next rally is outside Reno tomorrow, when Ann Romney will hold a “Women for Mitt” event at the Twin Oaks Riding Academy in Leesburg, Va.

FRIDAY MIGHT MATTER MORE: The president will have a good idea about the size of his convention bounce before sunset — hours before delivering an acceptance speech that, under normal circumstances, could be counted on to boost him at least a couple of percentage points in the polls.

But whatever headline he’s able to make tonight will be trumped tomorrow morning at 8:30, when the Labor Department announces its estimate of job creation in August and its unemployment rate for last month. Those numbers will do more to sway the relatively small undecided bloc (the 10 percent of voters in the nine swings states holding the 110 dispositive electoral votes) than anything Obama might say in his own defense about the past for years — or about his own aspirations for the next four years. And the president gets to know the jobs figures the afternoon before the public does (under a law that requires him to explain the monthly employment situation to Congress sometime tomorrow).

Jobs and the economy are of course the top issues on the mind of the electorate this year. And so worse-than-expected news tomorrow is sure to tamp down the Democrats’ post-convention bump, while better-than-forecast numbers will amplify the political benefit the party might have derived from its three days in Charlotte. The most widely-used gauge of expectations is the Bloomberg News consensus survey of economists; it expects a net gain of 127,000 payroll positions in August and the jobless rate holding steady at 8.3 percent. (The initial government estimate for July, which may also be altered tomorrow, was that 163,000 jobs were created that month; it generally takes an increase above 200,000 to push the unemployment rate down a notch.) The president got some encouraging news this morning, when the government reported that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell by 12,000 last week.

Tomorrow’s jobs report is not the only one that could be a momentum-changer at a crucial moment in the campaign. The October numbers come out four days before Election Day.

WHAT MATTERS TONIGHT? What can the president do to make the most of his speech? The answer is quite clear-cut and hardly outside the box.

He can do what so many presidents seeking re-election have done and offer his unique discourse about the importance of “promise” — one of the loftiest words in political rhetoric, because it can be deployed to provide both inspiration for the future and justification  for the past. Obama will get to look the country in the eye and say he’s kept so many of the promises he made four years ago. More importantly — for the millions of voters still searching for a vision to vote for, not a candidate to vote against — he will get to describe the promise of a next four years in which his legislative program and his world view set the Washington agenda. He has an opportunity to project empathy to the 23 million who are either unemployed or underemployed, and to reassure them that his plan is the much better bet for getting them back to work. (Romney now has a clear but not unsurmountable lead in the polls when people are asked who’s got the best ideas for fixing the economy.) Obama can seek to smooth-over his hardening reputation as just another partisan player (not the post-partisan president he promised to be) by using Romney as more of a foil than a punching bag, casting his fiscal and economic policies as more Clintonian-centrist than the Republicans maintain — but at the same time more appropriately embracing and proactive than the trickle-down approach the Republicans believe in.

He also has the opportunity to unveil a Big Idea for a second term — a promise to spend his political capital to slow global warming, for example — although aides this week have tamped down speculation that any such proposal was in the offing. Instead, they’ve suggested their aim is to leave the convention having framed the election as an unambiguous choice between Obama’s approach “Forward” and Romney’s bid to get back to the past. Campaign operatives want tonight to go beyond rebutting the notion that Obama has squandered all the optimism he summoned in 2008; they want their candidate’s speech to rekindle that spirit — not in the hearts of the middle-class swing voters, which is largely unrealistic, but among the young people, African-Americans and Hispanics who backed him in such lopsided numbers last time and could prove crucial again this fall.

WHAT A VEEP WANTS: Biden’s main opportunity tonight is less about being inspirational and more about signaling whether he’s aspirational.

Even in his diminished role, the vice president can be counted on to offer a blunt-spoken testimonial about Obama’s strengths, especially as commander in chief. And, despite his reputation for allowing his effusiveness to foster foot-in-mouth problems, he’s as seasoned a political professional as it gets: He’ll hit his marks, stick to his script and stay within his time limit. So the bigger mystery is whether he’ll offer even an oblique hint about whether he hopes to be back on the convention stage in four years — when, at 73, he would be the oldest presidential nominee ever. (And the one who’s spent the most time in federal elected office; Delaware voted him into the Senate in 1972, when Paul Ryan was a 2-year-old.) Clearly, Biden still loves the work of governance, and the game of politics. (He has already headlined more than 100 political events during this campaign, and he also reportedly contemplated a surprise appearance before the Iowa delegation this week, then thought it best not to cause a stir.)

The question is whether, by 2016, a third presidential campaign would be turned aside by a Democratic primary electorate that viewed him as long past his sell-by date — a perception that might be fueled (but also might be neutralized by) a Hillary Clinton candidacy. (The first national poll of Democrats about 2016 so far, taken earlier this summer, had 60 percent volunteering Clinton as their choice and 18 percent talking up Biden, with a smattering of others in the low single digits. Assuming that neither of them will end up running, or that a new generation of voters will be looking for a new face next time, the convention has been awash in the nationally ambitious. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley all went to the Iowa delegation breakfast yesterday, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York did the same this morning. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is also considering a run, didn’t make the rounds.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Tampa keynoter Chris Christie (50) and Danny Davis (71), a Democratic congressman from Chicago who’s been sporting a shiny pewter leisure suit in Charlotte this week — and is sure to win a ninth term this fall.

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More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

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