A Mini Preview of Obama’s Speech

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Given Obama’s statements in Moline that he wasn’t aiming for soaring rhetoric in his acceptance speech tomorrow, it’s not entirely surprising that a reporter on Obama’s flight in to Denver from Billings, Montana today asked David Axelrod: Is Obama aiming for boring?

Axelrod laughed and snarkily replied: “Yeah, that’s why it’s taken so long, because it was really not boring and we were trying get it to boring and we’re having a hard time with that,” he told us. “The truth is, I don’t think he’s concerned as much about the form as he is the content. When he said that I don’t think he was trying to purposefully tamp that down, I think he has some things he wants to say that are very simple and direct about where we need to go as a country. I think he thinks we can be direct and clear with people and still not boring.

The gaggle was meant to be about the speech and what to expect but we didn’t learn a lot. How long will it be? We don’t know, it’s not done. What will he focus on? The differences between Obama and McCain, mainly on the economy and foreign policy. Will it be biographical? Somewhat, but more about the choice the American people are facing in November.

Axelrod wasn’t trying to be cagey. The fact is Obama’s speech is still very much a work in progress, victim to Obama’s insistence of writing it himself and his own time limitations. In 2004 “I remember he was in the State Capitol in Springfield and it’d be quiet and so he’d go off the floor into the men’s room and scribble stuff on yellow pads or while he was traveling down through the state and so on and then he finally pulled it all together into a draft and that took a while,” Axelrod said. “But there difference here is, you know, he’s got a few other things going. It’s hard to find the quality time to do this.”

Obama is drawing inspiration from the speech from Bill Clinton’s 1992 convention speech, Ronald Reagan’s in 1980 and John F. Kennedy’s in 1960. Obama started thinking about it before he left on vacation and finished his first draft last week. He plans to spend most of the day tomorrow tweaking, editing and practicing. “He’s going to lay out the case for change,” Axelrod said. “He’s going to set the stakes of this election, the risks of continuing on the road we’re on, which is plainly what Senator McCain is offering. And he’s going to talk about an alternative path that’s rooted in the best of what this country is and in the kind of future we can build if we take it.”

Obama has to do a lot with this speech: launch a strong general election, define himself in the face of McCain’s attacks and make clear McCain’s links to Bush and the choice voters face. On the other hand, isn’t delivering a game-changing speech kind of Obama’s forte?