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Five things we learned from Day Three of the DNC

By Peter Hamby, Ashley Killough and Paul Steinhauser, CNN
September 7, 2012 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
The Obama family takes to the stage as the gathering draws to a close on Thursday, September 6, the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/27/politics/gallery/best-of-rnc/index.html' target='_blank'>See the best photos from the Republican National Convention. </a> The Obama family takes to the stage as the gathering draws to a close on Thursday, September 6, the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. See the best photos from the Republican National Convention.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • If speechifying were hoops, Obama would be Kobe Bryant; Romney, Moochie Norris
  • Obama's set the bar high eight years ago, and this speech didn't hit the same mark
  • John Kerry: "Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago."
  • If Charlie Crist wants to run for Florida governor as a Dem, he's got a lot of work to do

Charlotte (CNN) -- President Barack Obama accepted the nomination of his party Thursday on the last night of the Democratic National Convention, wrapping up a three-day political lovefest in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Obama's acceptance speech wasn't one of his best, but it was enough to send Democrats infused with enthusiasm as they head home and hope it spreads there.

Here are five things we learned on Thursday:

1. Obama clears the hurdle

The president of the United States unleashed a corker of a convention speech on Thursday night in Charlotte.

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The message was clear: Things are tough, but if we stay on the same path, things will get better. The crowd loved it. It was lyrical. It was poignant. If speechifying were basketball, Barack Obama would be Kobe Bryant and Mitt Romney would be Moochie Norris.

"America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder -- but it leads to a better place," Obama said.

But here is the burden of being Barack Obama: This was his third nationally televised convention speech, and it was unquestionably his most underwhelming.

Obama only has himself to blame. The bar is so high only because his skills as an orator are stunning.

Analysis: Obama hit the marks he needed to

His 2004 keynote address, so moving that it seemed more of a prayer than a political speech, will go down as one of the greatest public addresses in American history. His 2008 convention speech in Denver was almost as inspiring.

Thursday's attempt to transform the prose of governing into the poetry of a campaign had a noticeably different feel. It reaffirmed for Democrats the gravity of what's at stake in this election: a strong economy and better future for a Wall Street plutocracy. His attacks on the Republican ticket's lack of foreign policy experience were particularly cutting. Obama used the term "choice" 10 times.

But the realities of being president make for a more complicated speech than the soaring kind he routinely delivered during the heady days of the 2008 campaign. He acknowledged as much.

"I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention," Obama explained. "The times have changed -- and so have I. I'm no longer just a candidate. I'm the president."

Four years later: Are you better off?

He mentioned the word "hope" 15 times in his speech, reprising the theme that carried him to the Oval Office in 2008.

But as the writer Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog Thursday, "This feels like a State of the Union -- not a convention rallying cry."

Obama was forced to temper his inspiring rhetoric about the greatness of the American spirit with references to the policy battles that have consumed his tenure in office. Energy, same-sex marriage, education, taxes, climate change -- all referenced. His health care reform law? Barely touched on. The stimulus went unmentioned.

Expectations were high, and Obama delivered. But instead of knocking it out of the park, he might have just hit a triple.

Opinion: We're in for a heck of a ride

2. All forgiven for Obama's long evolution to back same-sex marriage

Although Obama had a rough start in laying out his support for same-sex marriage earlier this year, the celebration on the convention floor Thursday marked a full embrace from the LGBT community.

But all seemed forgotten Thursday night when Democrats saved same-sex marriage for the final night, featuring several speakers and testimonies praising the president's newly minted position, as well as the party's decision to fold marriage equality into its platform.

The DNC and gay rights 40 years later

"This has been the most diverse, most inclusive convention ever held -- a convention not just of symbolism, but of substance. For the first time, a major party platform recognizes marriage equality as a basic human right," said convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles.

Zach Wahls, an Iowan, spoke about being raised by his two moms and faulted Republicans and Mitt Romney for what he argued were prejudice and unfair positions on same-sex marriage.

"President Obama understands that. He supports my moms' marriage," Wahls said. "President Obama put his political future on the line to do what was right."

Also featured in the segment -- one that received much fanfare from the crowd -- was a U.S. Army captain who applauded the president's work to help repeal "don't ask, don't tell," saying it was wrong that many of the men and women he served with were turned away because of their sexual orientation.

"Soldiers who I trusted with my life, and fought alongside with, could be discharged because of who they love," Jason Crow said.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who's fighting for a U.S. Senate seat, also praised the DADT repeal.

"Our president has made historic progress toward equality," Baldwin, a lesbian, said. "Republicans want to write discrimination into our Constitution. But the Wisconsin I know believes that with each passing year and each generation, our country must become more equal, not less."

And in his speech, Obama chided "Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry" and credited the American people for helping to ensure that "selfless soldiers won't be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love."

3. Kerry displays his foreign policy cred

The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, brought the people to their feet in a speech that showed his supporters haven't forgotten the senator's foreign policy chops. Could Kerry, with 27 years in the Senate, soon have a larger role should Obama win?

The Massachusetts senator focused his remarks on painting Romney, former governor of the Bay State, as out of touch on national security and international affairs. On overseas involvements, the Senate Foreign Relations chairman attacked Romney for wavering on his answers about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as action taken in Libya.

"Mr. Romney, here's a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself," Kerry said. The zing was somewhat double-layered, as Kerry has been tapped to play the role of Romney in debate prep for Obama.

Excerpts: Kerry to extol Obama foreign policy record at DNC

Continuing with his crowd-pleasing breakdown of Romney's national security policy, Kerry referenced Romney's gaffe when he argued on CNN earlier this year that Russia was the United States' No. 1 geopolitical foe.

"Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska," Kerry said. "Mitt Romney talks like he's only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV."

And while Vice President Joe Biden delivered his famous line, "Osama bin Laden is dead; General Motors is alive," Kerry was the one who really brought down the house when he turned the tables on the Republican attack line of whether voters thought they were better off than they were four years ago.

"After more than 10 years without justice for thousands of Americans murdered on 9/11, after Mitt Romney said it would be naive to go into Pakistan to pursue the terrorists, it took President Obama, against the advice of many, to give that order to finally rid this Earth of Osama bin Laden.

"Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago," Kerry said, prompting near-deafening applause in the arena.

The surprisingly hard-hitting speech, one also laced with ideals of American exceptionalism, begged the question of whether the senator was vying for a potential Cabinet position should Obama win re-election. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already said she'll step down at the end of Obama's first term. Could Kerry be filling her shoes?

4. It takes an import to pump up crowd over American autos

Jennifer Granholm revved up the Time Warner Cable arena Thursday night with a rousing and spirited defense of the bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors.

The former Michigan governor had the crowd at the Democratic convention on their feet and energetically applauding as she touted Obama's role in rescuing America's auto industry.

"The entire auto industry, and the lives of over 1 million hard-working Americans, teetered on the edge of collapse; and with it, the whole manufacturing sector. We looked everywhere for help. Almost nobody had the guts to help us -- not the banks, not the private investors and not Bain Capital. Then, in 2009, the cavalry arrived: Our new president, Barack Obama!" Granholm said.

"He organized a rescue, made the tough calls and saved the American auto industry."

While Granholm had the audience cheering wildly, don't start thinking of her as possible contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination -- she was born in Canada before moving to the U.S. as a child, and that means she can't be president.

But she can serve as a strong surrogate for the president in an important battleground state. Granholm embraced that role, attacking Romney for his opposition to the auto bailouts.

"Mitt Romney saw the same crisis and you know what he said? 'Let Detroit go bankrupt.' Sure, Mitt Romney loves our lakes and trees. He loves our cars so much, they have their own elevator. But the people who design, build, and sell those cars? Well, in Romney's world, the cars get the elevator; the workers get the shaft," she said.

Five lines that killed

Romney opposed the government bailout and pushed for a privately financed, managed bankruptcy of the two automakers.

One thing Granholm didn't do is give any credit to President George W. Bush. The auto bailouts were actually started in late 2008 during Bush's last couple of months in office. Obama continued, funded and expanded the program after taking office in early 2009.

The auto bailouts have been prominently touted during the Democratic convention, with the Obama campaign seeing them as a roadway to victory in Michigan and neighboring Ohio, which is also a major base for the auto industry.

As for Granholm, who's now a host on progressive network Current TV, she proved she can charge up a crowd in only a matter of moments.

Her six-minute speech won praise from Vice President Joe Biden, who during his address an hour later gave her a shout-out, saying "God love Jennifer Granholm! Wasn't she great?"

But her performance may best be summed up by a tweet: I'LL HAVE WHAT SHE'S HAVING!!!!

5. Charlie Crist has some work to do

Charlie Crist, who once billed himself as a "pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax Republican," has a lot of work to do if he plans to run for governor as a Democrat in 2014, as many Florida insiders expect him to do.

The Obama campaign's decision to hand Crist a prime-time speaking slot at the convention was widely mocked by Republicans who see him as a craven political operator and turncoat of the worst order.

But the move also rankled Sunshine State Democrats who think the former governor and Senate candidate is shamelessly positioning himself for yet another statewide run. Crist endorsed Obama for re-election last week and is expected to formally register as a Democrat any day now.

"To many longtime Florida Democrats," the Miami Herald's Marc Caputo wrote this week, "it's revolting."

Florida Republicans hammer Crist for switch

The political class delivered some brutal reviews after Crist took the convention stage -- accompanied by a floor fan, of course, to prevent any unwanted perspiration -- to thank Obama for passing a 2009 stimulus bill that "saved Florida."

"I find Charlie Crist detestable w/an intensity I usually reserve for communist tyrants and frogs," tweeted Ana Navarro, a Republican fundraiser close to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and a CNN contributor.

Navarro clarified moments later: "I apologize to all frogs, toads and tadpoles for previously saying I detest Charlie Crist w/same intensity I do frogs. I detest him more."

A spokesman for Bush said in an e-mail that Crist is "solely focused on personal ambition."

Sam Stein of the Huffington Post hanged Crist with his own words, retweeting in rapid succession a series of 2010-era Crist tweets attacking Obama's health care reform law.

And no Crist-watch would be complete without a joke about his famous tan.

"Charlie Crist's speech was oranger than a Frank Ocean album," tweeted liberal blogger Jesse Taylor.

Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry and his adviser Brian Hughes were sipping beers inside the CNN Grill during Crist's speech, smirking and then bursting into laughter as the TVs cut away from his speech to go to commercial break.

Curry took issue with Crist's assertion that he "didn't leave the Republican Party; it left me."

"That is a ridiculous claim," Curry told CNN. "It's a lie. Everyone knows Charlie Crist left the Republican Party because he was trying to win an election."

Crist, employed at a law firm run by his political patron John Morgan, is working hard to repair his image and political gravitas. He was seen leaving an Obama campaign finance meeting Thursday morning -- not a bad place to meet potential Democratic donors.

But it was hard to find anyone in Charlotte, this week's center of the political universe, who takes Crist seriously. And that's a big problem if he hopes to recapture his office in Tallahassee in two years.

Obama urges voters to secure the change he started

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