President Barack Obama speaks after touring the Bridgewood neighborhood in LaPlace, La., in Saint John the Baptist Parish where he surveyed damage and got an update on the ongoing response and recovery efforts to Hurricane Isaac, Monday, Sept. 3, 2012
WASHINGTON — Democrats assemble Tuesday to re-nominate Barack Obama for the presidency, to sell him as the wise and humane alternative to Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a pitch that will be repeated endlessly over the next two months to an American electorate that is more politically divided than at any time in at least a quarter century.
As they watch the political stagecraft, there may be only one thing all Americans can agree on: Deep concern over the struggling American economy that has made only a halting recovery from the Great Recession and near meltdown of the U.S. financial sector just before the nation's first African-American president took office 3 1/2 years ago.
Through the course of the Democratic National Convention this week, Obama and his party will be fighting Romney's argument that the president has failed and will only lead the country deeper into debt and economic despair. That was the Republican theme at their national convention last week in Tampa, Florida.
First lady Michelle Obama's speech Tuesday night was an early highlight of a three-day convention schedule that has drawn thousands of delegates to North Carolina, a state that Obama narrowly carried in 2008. Although Obama no longer is the fresh-faced newcomer 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 a stadium for his acceptance speech later on Thursday.
On convention eve, 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.
For his part, Obama set the tone for the Democratic gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina, declaring Monday that Romney's governing prescriptions are something out of the past century.
"Despite all the challenges that we face in this new century, we saw three straight days of an agenda out of the last century. It was a rerun. You might as well have watched it on black-and-white TV," Obama told an audience of auto workers in Toledo, Ohio.
In a USA Today interview, Obama accused Republicans of building their campaign around a "fictional Barack Obama" by wholly misrepresenting his positions and words. He singled out Romney's claim, widely debunked, that the Obama administration stripped a work requirement out of federal welfare laws.
Later Monday, Obama made a convention-eve visit to the flooded Louisiana coast to console victims of Hurricane Isaac. He vowed government officials would find out "what can we do to make sure it doesn't happen again."
At times like these, "nobody's a Democrat or a Republican, we're all just Americans looking out for one another," said the president, flanked by local and state officials from both parties, after inspecting some of the damage inflicted by the storm and hugging some of its victims.
Romney paid a similarly nonpartisan visit last Friday to the flooded region but made no reference at the time to federal aid.
Obama has been and will be arguing that Romney brings nothing more to his quest for the White House than plans and policies that are a reprise of those employed by former Republican President George W. Bush, under whose watch the Great Recession began and the financial collapse occurred.
Most Americans still hold Bush responsible for the start of the economic difficulties afflicting the U.S., but they are split on which candidate is best equipped to return the country to robust growth.
Romney contends the president is a nice guy who has failed to make things better. The Republican candidate drew a line under that message in a statement Monday, the U.S. Labor Day holiday that celebrates workers and marks the unofficial end of the summer holiday season.
Romney said the holiday was "a chance to celebrate the strong American work ethic," but added: "For far too many Americans, today is another day of worrying when their next paycheck will come."
His convention behind him, Romney relaxed at his lakeside home in New Hampshire with his family. He has no campaign events scheduled during the Democratic convention, but plans to spend several days preparing for his three debates next month with Obama.
Romney will be hitting hard on his business expertise as co-founder of Bain Capital, a private equity firm through which he amassed a quarter-million dollar fortune. Polls show most Americans see Romney as the better candidate to handle the U.S. economy. Obama is seen as by far the most likable and better able to understand the problems of ordinary Americans. Overall the two candidates are in one of the closest presidential contests in recent U.S. history.
Their vision of America's future differs across the board and, perhaps, the subtexts in that regard will be the deciding factor.
Obama will be pressing hard on his contention that there are and will be vast areas where the government can help fix the economy and put a safety net under Americans who have been hard hit in the aftermath of the steep downturn. He's finally pushing hard in support of the health care overhaul he got Congress to approve more than two years ago. It was based on a plan instituted by Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, although the Republican candidate now promises to repeal Obama's version for the nation.
Obama is calling for higher taxes on Americans making more than $250,000 a year. Romney wants to keep Bush-era tax cuts in place, with even steeper cuts for high-income earners. Obama argues his plan will help bring down the U.S. debt. Romney says his ideas will do that even better by causing businesses to make more money and pay even more in taxes even though the rate is lowered.
Obama is pressing to keep alive the Medicare program, the much-loved government health insurance program for Americans over age 65. Romney — adopting the budget proposals of his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan — favors converting the program to a system where retirees receive a government voucher that they can use in buying insurance, mostly on the private market. Obama contends that will end Medicare "as we know it."
On foreign policy, Romney notably did not once mention the ongoing war in Afghanistan in his speech last Thursday accepting his party's nomination. Obama, polls show, is seen as far more capable of handling U.S. foreign policy, and he will no doubt hit that hard when he speaks Thursday night at an outdoor football stadium in Charlotte.
He will recall that he ended the war in Iraq at the end of last year, as promised, and will put an end to the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014.
And he holds a powerful trump card: His decision to order the daring Navy SEAL raid that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden at his hideout deep in Pakistan.
Biden, speaking to workers in Detroit on Monday, said he could put it all on a bumper sticker. "Osama bin Laden is dead, General Motors is alive."
Democrats will formally re-nominate Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday. That's also when the convention hears from Bill Clinton, whose 1990s presidency is being trumpeted by Democrats as the last great period of economic growth and balanced budgets.
Democrats chose North Carolina for their convention to demonstrate their determination to contest the southern state in the presidential race. Obama carried North Carolina by 14,000 votes in 2008, but faces a tough challenge this time given statewide unemployment of 9.6 percent, higher than the vexing national rate of 8.3 percent.