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What Democrats Must Do

As the Democratic National Convention convenes today in Denver, here are five key questions the party and its presidential ticket face. Their answers over the next four days will determine how successful the convention will be in shaping the final two months of the race.

1-Can Obama forge an emotional connection to voters?

Long before Republican rival John McCain began mocking him as a limelight-loving celebrity enamored by the sound of his own voice, Obama was struggling to sell himself to blue-collar Democrats, a crucial constituency. Since politically peaking in the weeks before Hillary Clinton beat him in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Obama has failed to forge a human connection to these voters, as he alternated between his rock star and his law school professor personae.

When he stands before 75,000 people for his acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium Thursday night, Obama must do more than deliver soaring rhetoric: he must speak with ideas and a voice that demonstrate clearly and forcefully that he understands the real economic fears people feel about losing their homes, their jobs, their health insurance, and their kids' chance to go to college. He could get a big assist from wife Michelle if she speaks from the heart in her big speech Monday night, telling the story of how the two of them scrapped and overcame in their own battle to make it.

2-How many votes will Hillary get?

Going into the convention, polls show that up to one-third of Hillary Clinton's primary supporters do not yet support Obama; a new CNN survey released Sunday showed the race tied and found that the number of Clinton voters not supporting Obama has actually grown since June. In an effort to placate her and her delegates, Obama agreed to allow her name to be put in nomination on Wednesday night, the day after Clinton's prime time speech, which will be preceded by a candidate-style, gushing biopic.

By making these concessions, Obama ran the risk of being embarrassed at his own convention, should large numbers of Clinton supporters cast ballots for her, or feel the need to act out their frustration in other ways on the convention floor. Clinton, who won 1,920 delegates, reportedly plans to meet with them to release their votes before the roll call. Obama would be best served by having his nomination backed unanimously; short of that, if Clinton's tally gets near four figures, it will represent a dis to the candidate, and could spell trouble in the fall.

3-How will Bubba behave?

Hillary isn't the only Clinton Obama has to worry about. As part of his make-nice (appeasement?) strategy with her, Obama also gave Bill a spotlight speaking role, on Wednesday night. The former president, who's been shamefully slow to throw his full support behind the candidate of his party, as of Sunday was reportedly still whining, this time complaining that he'd been assigned to talk about national security issues, instead of having a chance to talk about the economy, and his own record on it.

Chances are that Bubba will play it straight while on the podium; the real danger is that his narcissism will lead him to say something controversial or outrageous in an interview that will stir up a feeding frenzy flap, with 15,000 reporters on hand looking for a story that will let them break free of the convention script writers.

4-How effective will Joe Biden be in tearing McCain's face off?

The vice-presidential nominee gets his big moment on Wednesday night, when most Americans, who don't TiVo "Meet the Press," will get their first look at him. Obama picked the Delaware Senator in part because of his stature on national security issues; however, he also liked him because Biden is a brawler, whose sharp tongue and aggressive style are sorely needed by Democrats to counter the McCain campaign's take-no-prisoners approach. Four years ago, then-nominee John Kerry made clear at his convention that he didn't want any attacks on President Bush from the podium, a strategic blunder from which he never recovered. Obama and the Democrats need to start landing punches on McCain and on Bush, and Biden is the go-to-guy for that.

5-Can Democrats seize the issue of the economy?

Russia's invasion of Georgia, coming at a time when Obama was taking his leisure in Hawaii, handed McCain a gold-plated opportunity to take control of the campaign agenda. The Republican cashed it in, grabbing momentum away from Obama by hammering on the Democrats' inexperience with national security crises and contrasting his hard line positions on defense to Obama's more nuanced approach.

The Democrats need to find a way to change the subject back to the domestic economy, the number one issue on voters' minds, and to start holding the Bush-McCain Republicans accountable for its current malaise. Tuesday night is scheduled as the night convention speakers focus on the economy, and it's crucial that they send a powerful message to the nation, using memorable words, phrases and ideas that convince voters they have a serious program to address the financial anxieties of real people.

Tonight's prime time highlight: Michelle Obama speaks.

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