By Calvin Woodward and Julie Pace/The Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Democrats open their national convention Tuesday offering President Barack Obama as America’s best chance to revive the ragged U.S. economy and asking voters to be patient with incomplete results so far. Michelle Obama, in her opening-night speech, aims to give people a very personal reminder of “the man that he was before he was president.”
“The truth is that he has grown so much, but in terms of his core character and value, that has not been changed at all,” Mrs. Obama said in interview airing on SiriusXM’s “The Joe Madison Show.”
The three-day convention has drawn thousands of delegates to a state Obama narrowly carried in 2008. And although Obama no longer is the fresh-faced newbie who leveraged a short Senate career into an audacious run for the nation’s highest office, he still can excite partisans, and Democrats were counting on massive numbers to pack a stadium for his speech later in the week.
The Democrats dispatched U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who hopes to unseat Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, to make the case for Obama on morning talk shows, and she acknowledged that “it’s tough out there” for many Americans. But she insisted that Obama offers the better vision going forward.
“Republicans are not helping us get back,” she said.
Warren was up against GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, who held out the millions of people who are struggling to find work as an indictment of the president’s first term.
“Four years into a presidency and it’s incomplete?” he asked in a round of morning television interviews. “The president is asking people just to be patient with him?”
GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign reinforced that message with a new Web video answering Obama’s statement that “there are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery.” The new video showcases a series of ordinary people who’ve lost their jobs saying, “I’m an American, not a bump in the road.”
Romney, his convention behind him, planned to spend the day in Vermont preparing for the fall debates with Obama.
If the economy is Obama’s burden, he demonstrated the power of the presidency with a convention-eve visit to hurricane-stricken lands in Louisiana, offering aid and empathy. The president emphasized the government’s determination to lend a strong helping hand. Romney, for his part, focused on neighbor helping neighbor in his visit days earlier, though both support a mix of emergency aid from the taxpayer and volunteerism in response to natural disasters.
On convention eve, Democrats released a party platform for ratification Tuesday that echoes Obama’s call for higher taxes on the wealthy and reflects his shift on gay marriage by supporting it explicitly.
In a nod to dissenters on gay marriage, the platform expresses support for “the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.”
As with the deeply conservative Republican platform, not all of which Romney endorses, nothing binds Obama to the specifics of the party’s manifesto.
The president rallies in Virginia on Tuesday before joining the convention a day later.
Michelle Obama said she wants to use her opening speech to “remind people about the values that drive my husband to do what he has done and what he is going to do for the next four years. I am going to take folks back to the man he was before he was president.”
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivers the convention’s keynote address Tuesday, a nod to the importance of Hispanic voters in the race.
“Under any score — immigration, education, health care — in any number of issues, he has been a very effective advocate for the Latino community,” Castro said of Obama during an interview on CNN.
With flourishes but no suspense, Democrats will march through the roll call of states renominating Obama for president and Joe Biden for vice president on Wednesday.
That’s also when the convention hears from Bill Clinton, whose 1990s presidency is being trumpeted by Democrats as the last great period of economic growth and balanced budgets — a further redemption of sorts, at least from his party, for a leader who survived impeachment over sexual scandal.
Obama’s big acceptance speech is Thursday, and Democrats were closely monitoring the weather forecast. Officials had to decide by Tuesday whether to proceed with plans to hold the final night of the convention in an outdoor stadium or move it to a smaller indoor arena. Heavy evening rains doused Charlotte over the Labor Day weekend. Thursday’s forecast calls for a chance of rain.
In a USA Today interview, Obama accused Republicans of building their campaign around a “fictional Barack Obama” by wholly misrepresenting his positions and words. He singled out Romney’s claim, widely debunked, that the Obama administration stripped a work requirement out of federal welfare laws.
The Republican convention last week heard testimonials from a colleague of Romney at Bain Capital and from the founder of Staples, the office supply chain that grew from the private-equity firm’s investments. Democrats, focused on enterprises that closed or moved overseas after Romney’s firm got involved, are giving speaking time to workers from Bain-controlled companies who will tell the other side of the story.
Obama came out with a campaign commercial asserting that, under Romney, “a middle-class family will pay an average of up to $2,000 more a year in taxes, while at the same time giving multimillionaires like himself a $250,000 tax cut.” Aides said it would be seen in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, the battleground states where the White House race is likely to be decided.
The president and aides have acknowledged for weeks that they and the groups supporting them are likely to be outspent by Romney, and recent figures say that has been the case in television advertising in the battleground states for much of the past two months.
Democrats chose North Carolina for their convention to demonstrate their determination to contest it in the fall campaign. Obama carried North Carolina by 14,000 votes in 2008, but faces a tough challenge this time given statewide unemployment of 9.6 percent, higher than the vexing national rate of 8.3 percent.
Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ben Feller in LaPlace, La., Philip Elliott in Detroit, Kasie Hunt in Wolfeboro, N.H., and Michael Biesecker, Mitch Weiss and Beth Fouhy in North Carolina contributed to this report.