J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Democrats ridiculed Republican Mitt Romney as a millionaire candidate for president who "quite simply doesn't get it" and worse on Tuesday, opening night of a national convention aimed at propelling Barack Obama to re-election despite high unemployment and national economic distress.
Obama "knows better than anyone there's more hard work to do" to fix the sputtering economy, said San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the convention keynote speaker, sharing the prime-time spotlight with first lady Michelle Obama.
Delegates cheered as a parade of speakers extolled Obama's support for abortion rights and gay marriage, for consumer protections enacted under his signature health care law and for the auto industry bailout he won from Congress in his first year in office.
"He said he'd take out bin Laden, and with our great SEAL team, he did," declared former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine in one of several references to the military raid that ended the life of the terrorist mastermind behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The crowd cheered even louder when the subject turned — dismissively — to Romney.
"If Mitt was Santa Claus, he'd fire the reindeer and outsource the elves," former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said in a biting speech.
After the deep recession, Castro said, the nation is making progress "despite incredible odds and united Republican opposition."
He declared that 4.5 million jobs have been created since the president took office — though that number refers only to private sector employment gains over the past 29 months and leaves out state and local government jobs that continue to disappear each month.
Obama was back home in the White House after a campaign appearance in Virginia earlier in the day. He said he'd be watching on television when his wife spoke.
There was no end to the appeals for donations to his re-election campaign, falling further behind Romney in cash on hand with each passing month. "If you think Barack's the right man for the job, please show your support with a donation of $5 or more today," the first lady emailed supporters a little more than 90 minutes before her scheduled speech.
Polls made the race for the White House a tight one, almost certain to be decided in a string of eight or 10 battleground states where neither the president nor Romney holds a clear advantage. There was ample evidence of an underperforming economy, from a report that said manufacturing activity declined for a third straight month to a government announcement that the government's debt exceeded $16 trillion for the first time.
Castro, the first Hispanic chosen to deliver a keynote address, was unsparing in criticizing Romney, suggesting the former Massachusetts governor might not even be the driving force on the Republican ticket this fall.
"First they called it 'trickle down, the supply side," he said of the economic proposals backed by Republicans. "Now it's Romney/Ryan. Or is it Ryan/Romney?"
"Either way, their theory has been tested. It failed. ...Mitt Romney just doesn't get it," Castro said. Romney's running mate is Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
The divide over taxes goes to the core of the campaign.
Romney and the Republicans favor extension of all of the existing Bush-era tax cuts due to expire on Dec. 31, and also want to cut tax rates 20 percent across the board.
Obama, too, wants to keep the existing tax cuts in place — except for people with earnings of $250,000 a year or more.
In the streets around the Democratic convention hall, police arrested 10 men and women who blocked an intersection in what they said was a protest of the nation's immigration laws. The 10 said they were illegal immigrants.
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