Advisers to President Barack Obama are scripting a Democratic National Convention featuring several Republicans in a prime-time appeal to independents -- and plan a blistering portrayal of Mitt Romney as a heartless aristocrat who "would devastate the American middle class," Democratic sources tell POLITICO.
According to convention planning documents, the three-night convention in Charlotte, N.C., early next month will seek to "[e]xpose Mitt Romney as someone who doesn't understand middle class challenges" while also burnishing "the President's image as someone whose life story is about fighting for middle class Americans and those working to get into the middle class."
Each night of the convention will include a star turn for what planners call "real people" -- for instance, an auto worker whose job was saved, a student who benefited from college loans and an entrepreneur fueled by federal research-and-development funds.
The most innovative -- and harshest -- element of the preliminary program is a nightly "social contrast" in which two people describe their personal experience with a hot-button issue -- one person lauding the president's actions, the other taking Romney to task. "Each paired-testimonial should have an 'unexpected' participant," the documents say.
But the plans show organizers intent on steering clear of controversy as well. For the gay marriage social contrast, for instance, the documents state the participants should be "not a gay couple" -- but a "parent and gay son or daughter."
Other examples: "Don't Ask Don't Tell: Gay soldier and fellow (straight) soldier who served together in Iraq or Afghanistan (ideally the straight soldier was helped by the gay soldier, i.e., medic, in fire fight) ... Planned Parenthood: Husband who talks about how a PAP smear saved his wife's life and his spouse ... Immigration: Two young people from the same family, one who was born here, the other a few years older who was not ... Choice: A couple who has children, but wants to make their own decisions, not have the government do it for them (or who has confronted a difficult medical situation)."
The documents also give a glimpse of what parts of Obama's record will get the most attention in the campaign, with one piece -- the auto bailout -- rating several mentions in the plan. "Tell the story of the President's accomplishments -- the auto rescue, manufacturing, ending the war, health care, energy -- as central to his fight for the middle class and America's long-term economic strength," is listed as one objective of the convention.
The plans are spelled out in an early draft of the convention plan, providing an unusual glimpse of presidential advisers' thought bubble about what viewers will see from the podium -- closed captioning of what strategist David Axelrod and other top advisers are thinking about each element of the television spectacle. The detailed plans also offer a preliminary road map of the Obama campaign's big themes for the fall.
The details seem likely to change: The final convention plan will be a joint product of the campaign, the White House, outside advisers and the Democratic National Committee. But top Democrats say the draft reflects the thinking of the senior advisers, and the starting point for preparing a line-by-line program for Sept. 4-6.
Ben LaBolt, the Obama campaign's national press secretary, said: "A number of speaking programs are under consideration for the convention, and the only ones that are final are those that have been announced. It's no secret that the convention will both present the president's vision and outline the choice that Americans will face in November."
Aiming to connect the cerebral Obama with average Americans -- and thus emphasize one of Romney's most notable weaknesses -- the convention will try to portray the president as "driven by the same values we have, because he's faced the same struggles."
First lady Michelle Obama will begin communicating that message when she speaks during the convention's opening session on Tuesday night. Her planned remarks will reflect "the middle class values and orientation that POTUS brings to his job every day -- how he makes tough decisions, what his north star is."
Her speech is designed to show "that his motivation comes from his own background; that his story/her story, is our story." Convention planners also want to feature "the First lady as a mother," showing that she faces the same struggles moms everywhere face -- and the first family as a regular family in their interactions with each other."
The evening may feature the presidential daughters, Sasha and Malia, saying a few words about their mom. After she speaks, the president may surprise viewers and the crowd at the Time Warner Cable Arena by appearing remotely to congratulate his wife.
The convention begins the day after Labor Day, and is one day shorter than the customary length -- the four days Republicans will program during their convention in Tampa the week before.
Convention planners are considering featuring a centrist Republican leader on at least two of the three nights. Nightly remotes from swing states may include a CEO or "major Republican." On Wednesday night, a "notable GOP woman" is among the possible participants. And on the final night, Democrats may include a Republican leader -- someone like former Sens. John Warner or Chuck Hagel -- or a GOP woman.
"This segment would speak directly to independents, noting we are all 'Americans first,' " the documents say. "Depending on the speaker's background, the President's military accomplishments might be highlighted."
Thursday also may include a former military leader, perhaps paired with a former enlisted man or woman. "Ideally they would have witnessed first-hand the difficult decisions [Obama has] made," the documents say. "A Republican leader would be ideal."
The convention's broad themes depict Romney as "an exemplar of [the] bust-and-boom economy," while "Obama led us through the darkest days of the deepest recession in generations. ... Now he's fighting for the next steps, so we do more than recover from a deep recession that was a long time in the making, and reclaim America's promise on behalf of hard-workers, the strivers, the dreamers, who ask only for a fair shot and a fair shake."
Here is more on the night-by-night plans:
On Tuesday night, a speaker from a swing state will be charged with contrasting "Romney's vision -- a return to the same failed policies that caused the crisis -- with the President's vision. Drive strong contrast around middle-up vs. top down policies. Demonstrate how POTUS vision creates a strong, secure future for middle class and Romney's top down approach failed [Massachusetts] and would devastate the American middle class."
On Wednesday night, planners hope that President Bill Clinton will "use his own term to remind voters what was accomplished, and draw parallels to what President Obama is doing today."
NBC will be carrying the opening game of the NFL football season, Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants. But presidential aides hope to pre-tape an interview with a major convention figure for broadcast during halftime.
On Thursday night, a speech by Vice President Joe Biden putting Obama's name in nomination "will provide the ultimate contrast on the economy, making clear 'we're fighting for you.' He will recognize the struggle middle class Americans have been facing, and warn that we should not go back to the policies that created the crisis, but instead move forward correcting the imbalance that has weakened our middle class. The Vice President's background and middle class values should shine through."
After a video about Obama, the president will take the stage in Bank of America Stadium, where the Carolina Panthers play, and will seek "to communicate the urgency of the moment, acknowledge both the progress that has been made as well as [the] struggle[s] too many still face, and most importantly describe the choice before America."
That will be followed by the traditional onstage celebration by the presidential and vice-presidential families.