Edward Luce

A man sells Barack Obama car air fresheners in Charlotte, North Carolina (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Every four years, Americans ask themselves: “Are you better off than you were before the presidential conventions?” To judge by the falling television ratings, the answer is not good.

This week in Charlotte, Barack Obama and his surrogates will be trying to fend off the Republican line that voters are worse off economically than when he took office. For most Americans, the answer is unfortunately “no” (median incomes have dropped almost five per cent since the recovery began in mid-2009).

The fault may lie more in the stars than with Mr Obama, who can plausibly argue that without his 2009 stimulus people would be far worse off. But his team will continue to respond with an unequivocal “yes” because in the game of politics if you admit any vulnerabilities then nobody – least of all the media – will let you change the subject. The formula is prebaked. Most voters feel worse off than they were four years ago. Yet Democrats are responding with a version of Groucho Marx’s: “Who do you believe? Me or your own lying eyes?” Little wonder the electorate is tuning out. Read more

Edward Luce

Condoleezza Rice at the Republican National Convention (Stan Honda/AFP/GettyImages)

Every few years someone takes a convention by storm. At Bill Clinton’s convention in 1992 it was Mario Cuomo, the Hamlet-like governor of New York, who gave delegates a taste of what could have been. In 2004 it was the unknown Barack Obama, who comfortably outclassed John Kerry.

In Tampa in 2012, that moment was expected from Chris Christie, the generously-girthed New Jersey governor. Alas, Mr Christie belly-flopped. Instead, it was Condoleezza Rice, the only prominent former Bush official to be given a speaking slot, who delivered the best speech of the convention – and probably of her career. It was all the more impressive because it was unexpected.

Most people assumed that Ms Rice was invited for two reasons – she isn’t white (a big plus for a Republican nominee who recently got zero – yes zero – per cent rating among African Americans), and because her presence would “validate” Mr Romney. The content of her speech would be neither here nor there. In her short address, Ms Rice pretty much inverted expectations. Read more

Edward Luce

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If there was a word observers most repeated about Barack Obama’s convention in Denver four years ago, it was “soaring”. For Mitt Romney in 2012 it would be “humanising” – making him seem like he is flesh and blood is the key deliverable from the Tampa convention.

By that yardstick there is still some way to go.

On Tuesday night, Ann Romney cleared the low bar the media sets for political spouses by bringing to life a husband who, after 43 years of marriage, “still makes me laugh”. She gave a plausible description of a man who would outwork any other applicant for the job. “He will not fail,” she said to the biggest applause line of the night.

Most tellingly, she described a generous philanthropist who did not like people to know about how generous he is: “This is important. I want you to hear what I am going to say,” she said, lowering her voice. “Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he helps others, because he sees it as a privilege, not as a political talking point.”

Leaving aside the fact that Mr Romney has authorised others to talk about his charitable record (from whom we will hear during the rest of the convention), his wife’s words are not as straightforward as they seem. They contain two messages that Mr Romney will be hoping avoid further scrutiny. Read more

Edward Luce

Back in the golden age of the convention, Walter Cronkite may have been the American public’s principal source of news about their candidates. Today, everyone is Walter Cronkite. Read more

Edward Luce

So primed was everyone for an iconoclastic Supreme Court ruling that it took a few moments to realise Obamacare had emerged pretty much unscathed. Among those who mis-skimmed the 66-page document were CNN, Fox News and a host of Republican lawmakers. “Individual mandate ruled unconstitutional. Let Freedom ring!” tweeted Dennis Ross, a Republican congressman from Florida. A few minutes later Mr Ross deleted that and followed up with a new one: “Truly disappointed with Justice Roberts and others who allowed this assault on the Republic to stand.”

Legal scholars will pore over what motivated John Roberts to side with his four liberal colleagues and deprive his fellow conservative justices of a majority. Self-preservation might have been one motivation – it would be a rash chief justice who put his name to the obliteration of a sitting president’s signature domestic reform. Political analysts have less patience than scholars. In addition to the pundits, campaign staff for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama instantly agreed that the ruling would offer bigger political benefits to the Republicans. Read more

Edward Luce

The gulf between US election fund-raising and the reality of middle-class life beyond the Washington beltway has always existed. But in the 2012 election it is becoming glaring. Read more

Edward Luce

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker reacts at his victory party Tuesday, June 5, 2012, in Waukesha, Wis. Walker defeated Democratic challenger Tom Barrett in a special recall election. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Scott Walker at his victory party on June 5. AP Photo/Morry Gash

The great novelist William Faulkner once said: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

On Tuesday night, Republicans issued a warning shot to Barack Obama with the defeat of a recall vote against Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, who last year stripped public sector unions of most of their bargaining rights.

There were plenty of omens for Mr Obama’s November prospects, mostly – but not all – bad (he came ahead of Mitt Romney in the exit polls).

But the fact that normally Democratic Wisconsin is now in play for November may be less important than the relevance of Tuesday’s history lesson. Stalking in the background, and doubtless turning in his grave, was Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin reformer, who championed worker rights more than a century ago. As father to the Progressive Era, La Follette led the reaction against the inequities of the Gilded Age by taking on the great railroad and oil industry money machines. Read more

Edward Luce

Donald Trump in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images

Donald Trump in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images

Anyone wondering if there is well-concealed method behind the Romney campaign’s continued fraternisation with Donald Trump should watch the following video. Compiled by a Democratic group after Mr Trump’s return foray into “birtherism” this week, it shows what a whopper of a gift the tycoon presents to the Obama campaign. The ad ends with a clip of Mr Romney’s declaration that he likes “to be able to fire people who provide me with services”. The man with the perfect hair should start by firing the man with the imperfect hair. Read more

Edward Luce

Inside Obama’s re-election headquarters

As the Republican primary season drags on, the Obama re-election campaign has fired up its engines. This week on Luce Talk, Edward Luce,  the FT’s chief US commentator, takes us inside the Chicago headquarters and speaks with Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.

Edward Luce

In 2008 Davis Guggenheim made a biographical video of Barack Obama based on hope – the young senator’s lack of experience was studiously avoided. This time round, in Guggenheim’s The Road We’ve Travelled, which, at 17 minutes, is almost twice as long as his first effort, experience is Mr Obama’s chief selling point. It barely even needs a script to press home, although Tom Hanks does a soothing narration. All that is required is to glance at the shots of the youthful president-elect in 2008 versus the grizzled man seeking re-election in 2012Read more