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Obama Campaign Team Previews Thursday Speech

ABC News(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) -- The Obama campaign team assembled in the NASCAR Hall of Fame on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. – appropriate for their campaign slogan, “Forward” – but also illustrative of the reality that they have a lot more laps to go before the checkered flag waves.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter and campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt sat down today with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer and Jake Tapper and Yahoo News’ Olivier Knox for a breakfast panel to talk about polls, empty chairs and what Americans – and Obama – can expect to get out of the convention.

“I think that what we want out of this convention is for people to understand that the president has made some very tough decisions over the course of the last four years because it was the right thing to do for the country, not because it was politically popular,” Cutter told the panel and audience that filled the auditorium.

“Number two, to understand that there is a choice in this election and a pretty stark choice between the direction of the country and how we want to build our economy,” she said. “And, number three, a path forward for people walking out of that stadium on Thursday night or turning off their TV or leaving one of our watch parties – there are thousands of watch parties that are happening all over the country that are happening organically.  It’s not something that we’re organizing.”

What the Obama campaign isn’t expecting? A bounce in the polls. Friday’s Gallup poll showed Mitt Romney received no lift from the RNC.

“We’re not predicting a bounce because this race is so close, I think it’s difficult for any extreme movement in any direction,” Cutter said.

Bounce or no bounce, one thing that could put a damper on Thursday’s big night is the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly jobs report, which comes out Friday morning. Messina and Cutter said they did not know whether the president will receive numbers before Friday, but when asked whether Americans would look at Friday’s numbers as shorthand for a message on where the economy is going, the team rejected the idea.

“I think they’re going to look at the past four years, the fact that the economy was in a freefall when the president came into office, that we’d lost more than 3 million jobs in the final six months of the prior administration,” LaBolt said. “They’ll look at the progress that’s been made and they’ll ask, ‘Who’s got the better plan to restore economic security for the middle class?’”

Turning from the Democratic Convention, the panel couldn’t help but ask about the most buzzed-about moment at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., last week. Clint Eastwood’s conversation with “President Obama,” invisible in a chair onstage, made waves online instantly, and Thursday night the Obama campaign joined the fray.

Obama’s Twitter account tweeted, “This seat’s taken,” with a photo of Obama sitting in a chair labeled “The President.”

Messina clarified that it wasn’t Obama who sent it. “When he authorizes a tweet, it says ‘B.O.’ on it.  And then if it’s not, then it’s us, it’s the campaign,” he said.  “So, look, we were trying to have a little fun here and, you know, politics has to be fun, too.  It can’t always be serious.  And, you know, we use social media to be fun, as you do.”

Throughout the conversation, Team Obama seemed to bring up one theme again and again: work in progress. Cutter said we should expect to hear this in Obama’s speech Thursday.

“You’ll hear the president say we’ve made progress, absolutely we’ve made progress,” she said.  “We are better off than we were four years ago.  But that is not good enough.  We are not done yet.”

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