CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The way David Maraniss sees it, President Obama has "two out of three essential factors on his side" in the forthcoming election.
One is a likeability factor far higher than his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. Two is the changing demographics of the country that "favor a Democrat."
But, Maraniss adds, "He's got the economy against him."
While Maraniss, a Washington Post veteran and Pulitzer Prize winning author whose most recent book is a biography of Barack Obama, stops short of making any strong predictions, he says the weak economy probably isn't a big enough factor for Obama to lose.
Marannis, who lives in Madison part-time, is in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Democratic National Convention. He has been coming to national conventions since 1976. This one is among the best, he says.
"It's as well planned in terms of its presentation of any I've seen, building from Michelle [Obama] to [Bill] Clinton to tonight," he says. "We'll see what happens tonight with Obama."
Maraniss wasn't in Tampa for the Republican National Convention, but many of his colleagues were. "The most striking thing completely, is you walk the streets here and you see the diversity of America," he says. That wasn't the case in Tampa. "It's such an obvious, almost clichéd thought, but it moves me nonetheless, when I see all the different types of people who are here."
Maraniss won the Pulitzer for national reporting for his coverage of Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992. What did Maraniss think of Clinton's speech Wednesday night? "I thought it was the full Clinton. It played to all of his strong suits," he says. "He's a master at clarifying issues and his own method, which is to give the other side their argument, then shred it, but do it subtly, without bludgeoning the opponent."
The official schedule for tonight's convention still hasn't been released -- usually it comes out each morning. The event was originally scheduled for the Bank of America Stadium and was going to be open to the public -- a populist gesture rare for convention nomination speeches. Instead, the event will remain in the Times Warner Arena, where it has been for the past two days.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who is running for Senate against former Gov. Tommy Thompson, is roughly slated to speak to the convention between 6 and 7 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. and 6 p.m. CDT). Obama is scheduled to speak around 10:30 p.m. EDT.
Obama has a tough task for his speech, Maraniss says.
"It's really a hard speech for him to hit his sweet spot, because he can't seem too defensive and yet has to explain why certain things haven't happened because of the intransigence of the opposition," he says. "But he can't harp on that. Because people say, 'You're president, you have to find a way to overcome it.'" The goal for Obama is to marry the personal nature of his wife's speech with the political savvy of Clinton.
As a president, Obama has proven remarkable in his ability to "learn and grow, which is not something that every president or politician can do," Maraniss says.
"So the problems, flaws, missteps that he's taken in the first term, one can see him learning from as opposed to just moving past and ignoring them," Maraniss adds. "He's always had this cool outside and a fire inside. I think he's always been afraid of confrontation or reluctant to confront, and I think sometimes you have to."
But Maraniss is less hopeful for change in the final two months of the campaign. "It's going to be a really ugly campaign," he says. "More money than ever. More half-truths, mistruths, lies, more corporate control of things. And more desperation."
Adds Maraniss: "The democratic process is both beautiful and increasingly getting uglier and uglier."
Listen to an interview with Maraniss about the election.
Joe Tarr is in Charlotte with reporters from WORT 89.9 FM covering the Democratic National Convention, following their reporting on the Republican National Convention in Tampa.