<i>The Independent</i> Focus Group

Every day this week, <i>The Independent</i> will be speaking to Renée, Joe, Laura and Mary Beth to see how the Democratic Convention is playing with ordinary voters on both sides of the political divide. Today they give their verdicts on Michelle Obama's opening night speech
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The Independent US

Renée Van Vechten (Democrat, California)

Because Michelle Obama already has great rapport with the Democratic party faithful, swing voters were the critical audience she was attempting to reach last night. While she has no power to swing the election, she contributes to the campaign by personalising it, by talking about her roles as mom, loving daughter, admiring sister, supportive wife. She helps potential voters connect emotionally to the Obama family, and relate to them as "people next door". Her rhetoric clearly emphasized core "American values" like hard work and honouring your word, which won't convince anyone to vote for a particular person, but add incrementally to the subconscious "running tally" people carry in their heads about the worthiness of candidates to be president.

Joe McManus (Republican, Washington DC)

I thought she did well; as a Republican, I fear maybe too well. She said all the right things about her family, her husband, "values", self reliance - although I thought her sniffles at just the right time was a bit much. Maybe that's just the Karl Rove in me. Although I give her an "A", she was in fact outperformed - not by Ted Kennedy - but by her own family. The immediate appearance on screen by Barack, and the banter between him, her and the two kids was made for TV. The model American family, in living colour, has to be quite inspirational not just to people of colour, but to everyone. As I say, it was good, maybe too good.

Laura DeBusk (Democrat, Virginia)

I thought Michelle Obama did an absolutely amazing job. While her speech was incredibly inspirational, the biggest impact for me was being able to see her as a person who could easily be living on my street. I came away from her speech really liking her as a person and connecting with her as she shared stories of how she and Barack dated and brought their first daughter home from the hospital. Those stories are similar to ones my husband and I could share from our own lives.

I know there is a segment of the American population that will always be unwilling to support Barack Obama, but I think Michelle Obama's speech was able to do two things for him. First, for supporters like me, she reaffirmed all of the things I like about the Obamas. They are a highly intelligent, articulate and attractive couple who will help the US go a long way in repairing its image around the world. I also think, because of where they've come from, they can understand what everyday Americans are experiencing in their lives in a way that John McCain doesn't. Secondly, for any American who is not a supporter, but has an open mind, I think Michelle was able to show her true self as a wife and mother. Opponents have tried to portray her as angry and scary, but last night she came off as a regular person whose main concern is the welfare of her children and their future. If she and Senator Obama can continue to put that image forward, I think they will go a long way in making a connection with the American people.

Mary Beth Ray (Republican, Washington DC)

I thought the Democrats had a very good opening night. Michelle O. is lovely, and she is also an excellent speaker. Last night was all about family. Obama is clearly a family man who loves his wife and adorable daughters, and they love him. But does last night's family theme get them any closer to the White House? I doubt it. Michelle pursued the emotional family theme, emphasising her working class roots, and the role her loving father played in her life. She beat the "American dream" drum, as if to drown out her controversial unpatriotic image but I think she will need to do more to overcome those unfortunate comments made earlier in the campaign. I don't know why she kept shifting from foot to foot - I found that very distracting - but surely some Toastmasters training could solve that problem.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

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