Mary Altaffer, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a tight race for the White House, President Barack Obama exhorted college students not to forget him despite difficult times as Democrats shone the spotlight on his wife at the opening of their national convention.
Republicans weren't alone in pointing out the economic troubles in an election year shadowed by a sluggish recovery and unemployment of 8.3 percent. "It's tough out there" for many Americans, conceded Elizabeth Warren, running for a Senate seat now in Republican hands in Massachusetts.
Obama, campaigning at Norfolk State University, said things will only get worse if Republican Mitt Romney wins the White House this fall, and told his college-age audience that Election Day apathy was his enemy — and theirs.
Republicans are "counting on you, maybe not to vote for Romney, but they're counting on you to feel discouraged," he said. "And they figure if you don't vote, then big oil will write our energy future, and insurance companies will write our health care plans, and politicians will dictate what a woman can or can't do when it comes to her own health."
"They're counting on you just to accept their version of things," he said.
On the final stop of a pre-convention campaign circuit of several battleground states, the president also dropped off a case of White House-brewed beer at a local fire station.
Hundreds of miles distant, in another swing state, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the party's chairwoman opened the three-day convention to the cheers of delegates.
Earlier, protesters briefly blocked an intersection a few blocks from the Democratic convention center, coming close enough to delegates to exchange slogans.
"Four more years," shouted Obama's supporters.
"No more years," came back the reply.
The Time Warner Cable Arena's conversion to the Democrats' made-for-television convention hall was complete. The lectern rested on a blue-carpeted stage, inside a circle of white stars suggestive of the presidential seal.
Opening night speakers included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who claimed without any proof last month that Republican challenger Mitt Romney may not have paid income taxes for years despite his wealth.
Romney denied it, and Reid refused to say who had told him otherwise.
The Republican challenger was in Vermont as the Democratic convention began, preparing for three fall debates with Obama almost certain to be critical to the outcome of the election.
As was the case with Romney's convention last week in Tampa, Fla., several TV networks said they would carry only one hour of the Democrats' proceedings on live television. Obama's high command reserved the time for the convention keynote speaker, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro — and the first lady.
To laughter from his Virginia audience, Obama explained why he was ceding the opening-night spotlight to his wife.
"A political convention is "just like a relay, and you start off with the fastest person," he said.
"So I'm going to be at home and I'm going to be watching it with our girls. And I'm going to try not to let them see their daddy cry, because when Michelle starts talking I start getting all misty."
Mrs. Obama said before her speech she hoped 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."
There was no shortage of political calculation behind the program of the convention's first night — or for any other.
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