Americans call Denver the “Mile High City”. And sure enough, this remarkably scenic frontier town, founded by gold prospectors seeking their fortune shortly before

the civil war, sits 1,600m above sea level.

There’s a mother lode of good-enough-for-journalism metaphors to choose from in that short first paragraph. Will Barack Obama strike gold? Ascend the mountaintop? Conquer

the frontier? End the intraparty civil war still being waged by some Clinton supporters? The party leaders who chose Denver as the site of this year’s convention were hoping to make the statement that Democrats really, honestly care about what we call “flyover country” between New York and Los Angeles. But symbolism-rich Denver is apt in more ways than they could have known.

Obama this week needs to complete as many of those metaphors as he possibly can. Until last Thursday, he had just suffered through the most disastrous three-week period of his campaign, and maybe of his life. John McCain’s ridiculous but clever attack ads framed a negative narrative about Obama — the lightweight celebrity candidate — that seems to have stuck for some people and cable television hosts.

Obama was in trouble. The story of McCain’s seven houses and the generally well-received selection of Joe Biden as his running mate put a tourniquet on the bleeding and gave the candidate a bit of momentum heading into the convention. So what must he do with it? First, Obama needs to find a way to talk about the economy and people’s hardships that’s clear and direct. This language has eluded him so far. He needs to find a phrase that expresses a populist economic outlook; hammer it home.

Second, he needs to put some emphasis on the theme that made him famous in the first place, back at the 2004 convention, the idea of “post-partisanship” and one America. Average Americans like this idea.

Third, he needs to give the Clintons their day in the sun and let Hillary’s supporters vent whatever it is they need to vent. About 20% of her voters still say they’re planning to vote for McCain. This is childish and ignorant beyond belief, but it is what it is. He did barely beat her, so he is in the unfortunate position of having to smile as the Clintons act out their dramas. Whittling that 20% down to 5% won’t happen this week. It’ll happen in October. If it happens.

Fourth, and most important, this convention needs to establish a clear negative narrative about McCain. I’ve been saying this since May but I’ll keep saying it until it happens. The Obama team simply must find effective ways to attack McCain; not his positions but his character. We all admire his suffering in Vietnam, but that does not mean the rest of his life and career are without blemish. It would be nice if presidential campaigns were about who has the better healthcare policy, but they aren’t. They usually end up being about which side has launched the more effective attacks.

At the 2004 convention, the Democrats made the foolish decision not to allow any attacks on George Bush. He was a “wartime president” and Democrats thought they’d be high-minded about that. They paid the price. There’s no teacher awarding gold stars. There are only voters. They may say they don’t like negative campaigning, but they always respond to it. Don’t let them down. — The Guardian