On the eve of their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, billed as a riposte to last week's Republican extravaganza in Tampa, Democrats were struggling to extricate themselves from quicksand yesterday trying to answer the charge that ordinary Americans are worse off now than they were four years ago.
The normally disciplined Democratic machine was in damage-control mode after three of its top lieutenants seemed to stumble over the weekend when challenged in television interviews to answer the question that is at the heart of this election: has life improved in the four years since President Barack Obama?
"No," was the initial response of Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland when it was put to him on Sunday by one interviewer. Two other leading Obama aides, David Plouffe and David Axelrod, also seemed to prevaricate on the matter. "I think the average American recognises that it took years to create the crisis that erupted in 2008 and peaked in January of 2009," Mr Axelrod attempted. "And it's gonna take some time to work through it."
The Democrats are set to kick off tonight with Michelle Obama, pictured, taking the podium to bolster the already significant advantage that the party has among women. A similar task to fence in Hispanic voters will be left to Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, who will fill tonight's keynote slot.
If the Republicans are disappointed by what seems to have been only a modest bounce in the polls for Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan after their convention last week, they leapt with glee yesterday through the window left wide open for them by Messrs Plouffe, Axelrod and O'Malley.
Among the first to pounce was Mr Romney. "For far too many Americans, today is another day of worrying when their next paycheck will come." While Mr Romney is expected to keep a fairly low profile this week, his election team will do all they can to plug away on the 'Are-you-better-off?' question. That started yesterday as Mr Ryan dipped into North Carolina with a campaign event in Greenville.
Democrat aides meanwhile were sent back to the TV studios yesterday to correct the mistakes of 24 hours earlier. "Are we better off today than we were four years ago when President Obama was elected?" Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman, asked. "Absolutely. Let me just walk you through what life was like four years ago." She pointed to the car industry rescue and contrasted the 3.5 million jobs lost in the six months before Mr Obama was elected with the 4.5 million he has created since coming to office.
Another distracting ruckus was threatening to erupt after the chairman of the California Democratic Party, John Burton, compared the Republicans and their alleged tendency to speak mistruths to Joseph Goebbels and the Nazis.
"They lie and they don't care if people think they lie… Joseph Goebbels – it's the big lie, you keep repeating it," he said at a breakfast for California delegates to the convention. He made particular reference to Mr Ryan, who, he went further, uttered "a bold-faced lie and he doesn't care that it was a lie."
The choice of North Carolina is meant to bolster Mr Obama's hopes of taking it in the November election as he did in 2008. But a new poll released yesterday showed him trailing Mr Romney in the state by four points.Reuse content