The effectiveness of the Republican National Convention, with its mixed bag of hits and misses, jockeyed for airtime Sunday morning with the prevailing sense that President Barack Obama faces an uphill battle for re-election, as both parties tried to dictate the campaign narrative after Mitt Romney officially became the presidential nominee.
While most media -- social and traditional -- remain giddy over Clint Eastwood's rambling surprise address at the RNC, Obama's operatives tried to portray the campaign as a battle between a party on the decline and an incumbent who has work left to do. David Axelrod, Obama's top campaign adviser, claimed the Republican Party remains fractured, with a presidential ticket that represents the moderate vs. Tea Party vs. libertarian triumvirate creating turmoil within the GOP.
"We don't have the problems that the other party has. We're not divided. We don't have to worry about what people are saying on the side, or about their affection for the president. We don't have those problems. We don't have the reinvention convention," he said. "We're a unified party."
The top campaign aide also downplayed the effectiveness of the Tampa convention overall, calling it a "terrible failure." Presumably Axelrod hopes the Democratic National Convention, which starts Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., will offer his boss a sorely needed bump in the polls.
"I saw no movement, and I don't think there would have been," he told Fox host Chris Wallace. "People walked away unsatisfied from the convention. [...] The race is where it was before they walked in, and now it is our turn."
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A Reuters/Ipsos poll, however, showed the convention did give Romney a bump in popularity, though early signs show it may ebb quickly.
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said the convention was a "home run" on CNN's "State of the Union."
"Governor Romney's convention speech was an opportunity for him to introduce himself to millions of voters," Fehrnstrom said. "He accomplished what he set out to do, which was to talk about his better vision for America," to critique the Obama presidency and to provide a fuller personal portrait of himself.
Aides in the Obama camp dodged the question that has become a mantra for insurgent candidates challenging incumbent presidents ever since Ronald Reagan used it against Jimmy Carter in 1980: "Are the American people better off than they were four years ago?"
Both Axelrod and senior Obama adviser David Plouffe demurred at the opportunity to say yes, hedging closer a "not yet but we're getting there" neutral zone.
"We are in a better position than we were in the economy in the sense that when the president took office, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month, and the quarter before he took office was the worst since the Great Depression," he said. "We are [now] in a different place: 29 straight months of job growth and private sector jobs. Are we where we need to be? No."
Wallace pressed the issue, citing economic figures that leave much to be desired.
"I think the average American recognizes it took years to create the crisis that erupted in 2008 and peaked in January 2009," Axelrod responded. "It's going to take some time to work through it."
Plouffe dodged the question with a similar lack of subtlety on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
"I think the American people understand that we got into a terrible economic situation, a recession -- the Great Depression is the only one the country has ever seen like it," Plouffe said, yet was called out on his non-answer by the host.
"Well, we clearly improved, George, from the depth of the recession," Plouffe responded. "We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We're now gaining them."
The sincerest answer may have come from Maryland's Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who flatly admitted things are not better than they were four years ago -- and then proceeded to place the blame on perpetual bogeyman President George W. Bush.
"Without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recessions, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars, charged for the first time to credit cards -- the national credit card," he said.
Eastwood, alas, did come up, thanks to Chicago Mayor and former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, but only to serve as an example of why the Republican convention was a failure.
"The reason we are debating and even discussing Clint Eastwood, is because there is nothing memorable about Mitt Romney's speech," Emanuel said on NBC's "Meet The Press."