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.
Voters "fired Carter and they hired Reagan, and we're going to do the same thing this time," Ryan told a cheering crowd in Westlake, Ohio.
The Republicans reinforced that message with a new Web video containing old footage of Carter talking about some of the same problems that plague the country now — joblessness, debt, deficits, rising energy prices. It ends by flashing the words: "Are you better off?"
Romney, his convention behind him, drove from his vacation home in New Hampshire to the Vermont home of former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey to spend the day preparing for the fall debates with Obama. His campaign raised at least $100 million last month, for the third consecutive month, The Associated Press has learned.
Romney raised more money than Obama in May, June and July, including money collected by the Democratic Party. Obama's advisers are now publicly acknowledging the president will likely be outspent.
Democrats released a party platform for ratification Tuesday that echoes Obama's call for higher taxes on the wealthy and reflects his shift on gay marriage by supporting it explicitly.
In a nod to dissenters on gay marriage, the platform expresses support for "the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference."
As with the deeply conservative Republican platform, not all of which Romney endorses, nothing binds Obama to the specifics of the party's manifesto.
Michelle Obama, in an interview airing on SiriusXM's "The Joe Madison Show," said she wants to use her opening speech 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."
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivers the convention's keynote address Tuesday night, a nod to the importance of Hispanic voters in the election.
"Under any score — immigration, education, health care — in any number of issues, he has been a very effective advocate for the Latino community," Castro said of Obama during an interview on CNN.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Castro's story "reflects the president's story and the American story" of working hard, playing by the rules and getting a fair shot in the land of opportunity. Castro "will talk about those values" and outline the choice for voters, she said.
With flourishes but no suspense, Democrats will march through the roll call of states re-nominating Obama for president and Joe Biden for vice president on Wednesday after former President Bill Clinton puts Obama's and Biden's names into nomination.
Obama's big acceptance speech is Thursday, and Democrats are closely monitoring the weather forecast since he's scheduled to speak outdoors at Bank of America stadium. Campaign aides said the speech would go on outdoors "rain or shine" unless the weather would put people at risk. The National Weather Service says there is a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms Thursday night:
The Democrats were working to leverage the impact of the convention: The first lady will present the Top 10 List on David Letterman's show Wednesday night. And, Obama told supporters by email that actor Kal Penn — who worked in Obama's White House — would host a special online program before Thursday night's convention speech featuring special guests and interviews with Mrs. Obama and Biden.
With polls showing a tight race, everything seemed to matter intensely.
In the swing state of Virginia, the state Board of Elections ruled Tuesday that conservative former Rep. Virgil Goode can appear on the state's presidential ballot. Republicans fear Goode will drain votes from Romney, and had tried to keep him off.
Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Matthew Daly in Norfolk, Va., Steve Peoples in Westlake, Ohio, Kasie Hunt in Wolfeboro, N.H., and Ken Thomas, Michael Biesecker, Mitch Weiss and Beth Fouhy in North Carolina contributed to this report.
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