CHARLOTTE, N.C. — First lady Michelle Obama lovingly praised her husband Tuesday night in a prime-time Democratic Convention speech as a devoted spouse and caring father at home and a "man we can trust" to revive the nation's weak economy as president, beckoning the country to return him to the White House despite agonizingly slow recovery from recession.
"He reminds me that we are playing a long game here ... and that change is hard, and change is slow and it never happens all at once," she told a nation impatient with slow economic progress and persistently high unemployment of 8.3 percent. "But eventually, we get there, we always do," she said in a speech that roused Democrats packed into their convention arena and blended scenes from almost 20 years of marriage with the Obamas' time in the White House.
Mrs. Obama, given a huge ovation and emotionally describing herself as the "mom in chief," made no mention of Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But those who preceded her to the podium on the first night of the president's convention were scathing.
"If Mitt was Santa Claus, he'd fire the reindeer and outsource the elves," declared former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in one biting speech.
Tapped to deliver the keynote address, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said Romney was a millionaire politician who "quite simply, doesn't get it" when it comes to the needs of the middle class. Referring to the Republican's support for mandatory health insurance when he was governor of Massachusetts, he added, "Gov. Romney has undergone an extreme makeover, and it ain't pretty."
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 during the day of an underperforming economy, including a report that said manufacturing activity declined for a third straight month and an announcement from the Treasury that the government's debt exceeded $16 trillion at the close of the business day.
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.
There was no end to the appeals for donations to Obama's 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 speech.
She walked out to the crowd's cheers as the band played Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," the song he sang onstage at Obama's Denver convention four years ago.
The president was back home in the White House after a campaign appearance in Virginia as delegates cheered every mention of his name from the convention podium. He and their daughters watched on television as Mrs. Obama spoke.
"Believe it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage," she told the convention. "We were so young, so in love and so in debt."
She confided that at family dinners in the White House with her and their daughters, the president joins in "strategizing about middle school friendships."
Mrs. Obama's poll numbers are better than her husband's, and her speech was aimed at building support for him, much as Ann Romney's remarks at last week's Republican National Convention were in service to her husband's presidential ambitions.
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