Charlotte: Bill Clinton, the popular former president who oversaw America’s 1990s boom days, nominates Barack Obama for a second White House term Wednesday night, an unusual bid by a Democratic party determined to lift the spirits of voters who have lived through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Obama’s challenger, businessman-turned-politician Mitt Romney, still holds a lead among voters as the candidate best qualified to manage the still-struggling US economic recovery, a polling deficit that Clinton has been assigned to narrow.
Overall, surveys find Americans evenly split on backing Obama or Romney in what looks to be the closest U.S. presidential election in recent memory. While the vastly wealthy Romney has an edge on the economy, Obama holds a huge lead as the candidate seen as best able to relate to the needs of ordinary Americans.
And that was the message brought to the Charlotte convention hall by First Lady Michelle Obama on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention.
She declared that after nearly four years as president, her husband is still the man who drove a rusty car on their early dates, rescued a coffee table from the trash, and knows the struggles of everyday Americans because he lived them in full.
“I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are,” the first lady said to huge cheers Tuesday night. She brought star power and a deeply personal, yet unmistakably political testimonial to the floor of the convention hall.
Aside from what was expected to be Obama’s soaring acceptance speech Thursday night, convention goers and the politically attuned audience in front of television sets nationwide were most anticipating Clinton’s nominating address.
It will mark a true healing of a difficult relationship between the former and current presidents who sparred, sometimes sharply, in the 2008 Democratic primaries, when Clinton was supporting his wife Hillary’s campaign for the party nomination.
Romney, who was formally nominated at the Republican convention last week, appeared nowhere in Mrs. Obama’s remarks. But there was no mistaking the contrast she was drawing as she declared that “how hard you work matters more than how much you make, that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself.”
Such subtle reminders of Romney’s quarter-billion dollar fortune were otherwise missing from the stage as speaker after speaker blasted the Republican challenger and his party.
Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and the first Hispanic to deliver the party’s keynote address, captured the tone by branding Romney a millionaire “who doesn’t get it.” Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said, “If Mitt was Santa Claus, he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.”
Delegates cheered as a parade of speakers extolled Obama’s support for abortion rights and gay marriage, for consumer protections enacted under his health care law and for the successful auto industry bailout he pushed through Congress in his first year in office.
But Obama is heavily weighed down by more than 42 months of unemployment surpassing 8 percent, the longest such stretch since the end of World War II. No president since Franklin Roosevelt in the Great Depression has been re-elected with joblessness so high.
A new report found manufacturing activity declined for a third straight month. The Treasury Department announced Tuesday that the government’s debt passed $16 trillion. Unless it shows improvement, the latest unemployment report, coming Friday, offers more potential fodder for Romney’s case against his rival’s economic stewardship.
Romney took a few days off from the campaign trail, preparing in Vermont for three debates with Obama that could prove pivotal in this close election.
As she spoke to the packed convention hall, Mrs. Obama described a marriage of kindred spirits, built from humble roots, and said the president’s work on health care, university loans and more all come from that experience. “These issues aren’t political” for him, she said. “They’re personal.”
“Barack knows what it means when a family struggles,” she said. “He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids.”
The first lady took the stage as the most popular figure in this year’s presidential campaign. Michelle Obama earns higher favorability ratings than her husband, Romney, his wife, Ann, or either candidate for the vice presidency, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll. And views of Mrs. Obama tilt favorably among independents and women, two focal points in her husband’s campaign for re-election.
Obama watched his wife’s speech from the White House with his two daughters.
Democrats looked to use the convention and its national television coverage to help Obama recapture the hearts of Americans once drawn to his message of hope and change, but now weary after years of economic weakness and political squabbles.
The two conventions highlight the contrasting visions of government that voters will face in the Nov. 6 election. Romney’s Republicans, increasingly guided by the anti-tax tea party movement, want to minimize the role of government, which it sees as an obstacle to enterprise and liberty. Obama’s Democrats see government as a potential force for good, helping the downtrodden and providing the education and infrastructure needed to help the country prosper.