OWA CITY, Iowa — Barack Obama’s campaign repudiated pundits who found his big convention speech flat, boring and stripped of inspiration, insisting the president achieved exactly what he set out to do.
Obama Friday found himself in the odd position of leaving a major political event unable to bask in acclaim for his stellar rhetoric.
Instead ex-president Bill Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama stole hearts at the Democratic National Convention.
Gone is the urgent poetry of the young political pretender of 2004 and 2008. Obama, now a worn president weighed down by incumbency, has tempered his style to reflect times in which the hope he promised is in short supply.
Initial reaction to Obama’s speech on Thursday night was that it underwhelmed and that the president missed a chance to cap a celebratory convention by twisting the knife into Republican Mitt Romney.
“Barack Obama is deeply over exposed and often boring,” wrote columnist Peggy Noonan, who has praised some previous Obama speeches despite being a star of the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.
“His speech Thursday was weirdly anti-climactic. There’s too much build-up, the crowd was tired, it all felt flat,” said Noonan who used to pen speeches for the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan.
Tepid reviews combined with bad jobs numbers made for a bad news day for Obama, so a senior aide took unusually strolled to the press cabin on Air Force One to share the results of focus group data.
The official suggested that the pundits had missed the point.
“I think the American people responded very well to the president’s speech,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“They first of all found it to be optimistic, they found it to be credible in terms of his ideas and goals that would help the economy,” the official said, adding that the data showed the electorate also warmed to Obama’s portrayal of Romney as a blundering novice on foreign affairs.
“We think that swing voters in this election responded well to the president’s speech. Our sense is that they responded better than to his speech in 2008 in terms of its impact.”
Obama set out to cast a stark choice between policies he sees as lifting the middle class, and Romney’s which he believes would threaten another financial meltdown.
The official also took a swipe at the Republican’s keynote the week before, which appeared to fail to clear a much lower bar.
“Mitt Romney’s speech for a convention speech was mediocre. I don’t think he advanced the ball in terms of those voters who are saying, ‘okay does this guy have the answers?’”
Obama campaign aides always painted their convention in Charlotte as a three-day effort to build a multi-dimensional picture of Obama and his presidency.
After Clinton and the First Lady offered the flourish, the president swung into provide the meat, promising policies to create jobs, cut the deficit, lift the middle class, hike taxes on the rich and keep America safe in the world.
But commentators conditioned to expect a soaring stemwinder from Obama were disappointed.
“This was the rhetorical equivalent, forgive the football metaphor, of running out the clock,” wrote Michael Tomasky, a political correspondent for the Daily Beast news website and British daily The Guardian.
“Obama clearly thinks he’s ahead and just doesn’t need to make mistakes,” he surmised, warning: “But when football teams do that, it often turns out to be the biggest mistake of all, and they lose.”
Molly Ball, staff writer of The Atlantic said Obama was on the defensive: “The speech was so befuddlingly flat as to make you wonder whether its lameness was intentional,” she wrote.
Obama gave a curtailed version of the stump speech on Friday at several campaign stops in swing states Iowa and New Hampshire and was setting out on a bus tour of the largest swing state Florida on Saturday.
Victory in all three battlegrounds in November would almost certainly assure him a second White House term.