Jae C. Hong, 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 a radio interview.
The president, campaigning in Norfolk, Va., predicted he'd get "all misty" watching his wife's speech from the White House with their two daughters.
"Whatever I say here today, it's going to be at best a distant second to the speech you will hear tonight from the star of the Obama family," he told a friendly crowd at Norfolk State University.
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 an outdoor stadium for his speech later in the week — weather permitting.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and a host of Democratic allies worked to rev up delegate enthusiasm, saying Obama has a strong record to defend. They noted the president had helped the economy rebound, presided over an increase in the stock market and brought troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We've got some truth telling to do," Warner told Florida delegates at a breakfast meeting. "America is better off today than it was four years ago when this president took over."
Newark Mayor Cory Booker told the delegates that Democrats need to get fully behind Obama, comparing the differences between a large voter turnout in his home state during the 2008 election and a more modest outpouring one year later, when New Jersey elected Republican Chris Christie as governor.
"Change is never made in a sedentary position," Booker said.
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.
New government reports out Tuesday underscored that reality.
U.S. factory activity shrank for the third straight month in August and construction spending fell in July from June by the largest amount in a year. Next up: The Labor Department will release new jobs numbers Friday. Economists expect to see some job gains but believe the unemployment rate will remain at 8.3 percent.
Obama told the Norfolk crowd that GOP nominee Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan "want to take us backwards." He urged voters to stick with the Democrats to "close the gap between what America should be and what it is right now."
The president dropped off a case of White House-brewed beer at a Norfolk fire station before returning home, telling the firefighters, "I want you to test it out."
Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, kept the GOP focus trained on the question of whether Americans are better off than they were four years ago, just as Ronald Reagan asked about Jimmy Carter's tenure decades earlier.
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