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Monday, August 25, 2008

 3:58 PM 

Analysis: Obama is shrewdly winning the expectations game

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Chris Micklos
Commentary
Team Obama clearly learned a thing or two during the primary campaign.

The first rule of a politics is to raise expectations for your opponent and to lower expectations for yourself. That makes it impossible for the opponent to live up to the hype, and easy for your own campaign to shine. And after getting their hats handed to them in the expectations game during the primaries, the Obama campaign has done a remarkable job of lowering expectations leading up to the Democratic National Convention.

As the DNC kicks off in Denver today and Democrats and media continue to stream into the Mile High City, the party is clearly succeeding in lowering expectations and setting the stage for an exceptional showing by Barack Obama.

After a triumphant victory in Iowa to start the campaign season, expectations for Obama soared so high that his campaign was never able to get them back under control. First the Hillary Clinton camp exploited the spin to a point where his ultimate victory in the primaries felt like a defeat, and then Republicans took over the game and managed to frame the summer as a series of missed opportunities by the Democrat.

But something has changed in the last couple of weeks, as the Republicans began to overplay their pre-convention spin.

When Obama named U.S. Sen. Joe Biden as his VP choice, Republicans released a TV ad framing the choice as a slight to Hillary Clinton, and Republican notables like Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bennett hit the talk show circuit to feign amazement and disappointed that Clinton was treated so shabbily. Republicans have been so successful at spinning the national media that the DNC begins today shrouded in questions and fraught with manufactured peril.

Will Clinton supporters stage massive demonstrations and disrupt the convention? Is there a real chance of a floor fight? What will Bill Clinton say from the podium? Will Clinton snub Obama ala Kennedy-Carter?

You practically expect TV coverage of the convention to look like newsreel footage of Chicago in '68.

And what about the folks with their names on the marquee? Will Michelle Obama wilt under the spotlight tonight? Will Joe Biden stay on message? Can Obama himself rise to the challenge of his past performances from the podium?

All this has led to dramatically lowered expectations this week in Denver.

In fact, the Republicans have been so successful in raising questions and spinning the media that they were practically ridiculed this weekend when they suddenly realized that it was time to raise expectations, not lower them. An embarrassing GOP memo this weekend suggesting Obama would enjoy a 15-point convention "bounce" in the polls was laughed off by the national media.

Meanwhile, Democrats have arrived in Denver feeling a mix of trepidation and excitement. In chatting up delegates and others on the ground here, nobody quite knows what to expect ... but you can sense the potential for a real celebration to bust out at any moment. The enthusiasm that Obama generated during the primaries is alive and well in Denver, and that will take center stage during the next several nights. This will be the first real introduction that Obama will have to most of the country, and there will be tens of thousands of adoring fans cheering him on and providing plenty of electricity to power the event.

In fact, despite all those huge crowds throughout the primaries and Obama's surprising ascension: thanks to Republican spin, the cheers and applause and genuine goodwill that will elevate this convention over the next four nights will feel like a shocking turn of events.

After all their hard work, the Republicans have helped set the stage for Barack Obama to exceed all expectations.

-- Micklos is partner and senior strategist at Visuality, a Madison-based media consulting firm.

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