ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
And this is President Obama's big night in Charlotte. After two days of impassioned speeches by others, making the case for his re-election, Mr. Obama takes the stage later tonight. And this hour we begin in Charlotte with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: Mara, four years ago at Invesco Field in Denver, then-candidate Obama gave a soaring speech, promising to change America, but it's been a pretty tumultuous four years since then.
LIASSON: Yeah. There's a big contrast. Four years ago, he talked about healing the planet and bridging partisan differences. Now he's facing stubborn 8.3 percent unemployment. His approval ratings are under 50, and ABC reported today that he has the lowest pre-convention personal popularity ratings of an incumbent in almost 30 years.
So he has a task that's very difficult tonight, even with the excellent table setting help he's received from Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama and the other speakers. But I do think he has to do more tonight than just say things could have been worse or that the other guy will make things worse.
SIEGEL: Well, naturally, there's a lot that President Obama would like to accomplish tonight. But what do you think? If there's only one takeaway from this speech, what does his campaign hope it'll be?
LIASSON: Well, I think he has to fill in the biggest blank of his campaign, which is what would he do with his second term. We know he wants to go forward and not backwards, but what does that mean exactly, other than implementing Obamacare and raising taxes on the rich? And how will he accomplish it with a Republican Congress which might have bigger majorities in the fall?
President Obama has talked about how his re-election would break the partisan fever, but how would it do that? He does have one advantage: Romney gave him a big opening. In Tampa, Mitt Romney was very light on policy. You heard a lot from the Republicans about hard choices and tough decisions, but they didn't describe a single one of them. So President Obama can do some of that tonight.
SIEGEL: Well, do you expect President Obama to be specific about what those choices might be in his second term plans?
LIASSON: Well, White House aides say he will be specific. They say it's not a State of the Union address with a laundry list of policies, but you will hear him outline big goals - immigration, the deficit, energy. Maybe he'll tell us something new about what's next on health care reform in terms of restraining costs, entitlement reform, possibly. Voters need to know not only that he has a plan for his second term, but they need to know what's in it.
SIEGEL: Mara, it's obviously too early to know if this week will give President Obama a bounce in the polls. But I wonder what's your sense of how the convention has either helped or hurt his prospects so far.
LIASSON: Well, I think the speeches have definitely helped close the enthusiasm gap. These delegates are very excited, and maybe even some disenchanted former Obama supporters watching on television have been convinced to take a second look.
I think the platform reversal on Jerusalem and God was a self-inflicted wound that probably hurt them a little bit. The venue change, the fact that he's not outside tonight with 70,000 people, was unfortunate, but they took a risk and it didn't work out. And I think that's just a small lost opportunity for organizing.
But I think when all is said and done, it comes down to President Obama tonight. I think he's really haunted by the expectations he raised with brilliant oratory, and he's haunted by the inability, for a variety of good reasons, to fulfill those expectations. So now how will he explain himself tonight, I think, is the biggest bit of suspense here in Charlotte today.
SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who is covering the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.