WASHINGTON -- On the opening day of the Republican National Convention, the party chairman said the American people "need to prosecute the president on what he promised and what he delivered." That's just what the GOP tried to do this past week in Florida.

Reince Priebus, and speaker after speaker, took to the stage to make the case that Barack Obama was guilty of overregulation, abuse of power, dishonesty, wanton spending and class warfare, and that he deserved no more time in the White House beyond January, when his current term ends.

In the legal world, the prosecution gets to make the opening statement and the closing remarks. But this is politics, and now it's the incumbent's turn.

Before the Democrats open their convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, the public gets a political pause, with time for a Labor Day cookout and maybe a trip to the movies. Even Democrats, says media strategist Fred Davis, have "room for minor adjustment" to the case they want to make.

"I'd always rather be the last car dealer you visit and the last convention you watch," says Davis, creative director for the 2008 GOP gathering. "Because the first guy is out of mind already."

In pro football, they flip a coin to see which team will receive first and which will kick. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick says his decision often depends on "what the wind is going to be." About 60 percent of the time, the coin-toss winner opts to receive, and about the same percentage of those teams go on to win the game.

But the order of the national party conventions is effectively preordained.

The tradition since 1932 has been that the incumbent's party goes second. That worked out great for George H.W. Bush in 1988, not so well four years later. In 2008, the Democrats were set to convene first, in Denver, when the GOP learned ahead of time that the other party was planning elaborate staging, with Grecian columns.

The Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, "asked for and got a very Spartan set that he thought was fitting for the time," says Davis, who worked for McCain. "A simple black stage with one giant TV screen."

When the Democrats heard about the GOP set, Davis says, they "dramatically reduced the opulence" of their own backdrop. Still, he says, "even in its scaled-down nature, it was big and elaborate and grand."

The conventions weren't always back to back like this. They used to be about a month apart. In recent decades they have been derided as mere coronations, with the nominee ordained long before.

But as sterile and orchestrated as these gatherings have become, author Norman Mailer once wrote, they remain a reminder "that politics in America is still different from politics anywhere else because the politics has arisen out of the immediate needs, ambitions, and cupidities of the people." Our politics, Mailer wrote, "still smell of the bedroom and the kitchen" rather than being handed down from the aristocracy.

There's not much difference between the conventions when it comes to how much thought people put into them. A Pew Research Center survey out this past week found that only 44 percent of adults cared what happened at the Republican convention, and just 43 percent gave a hoot about the Democratic one. Among independents, interest was about 7 percentage points lower.

But with the candidates running in a near dead heat, and delegates for Texas Rep. Ron Paul parading around the GOP convention floor with clothespins on their noses, the pressure was on Romney to close the deal before the Democrats claimed the spotlight.

The GOP convention's theme was built largely around an Obama quote ("You didn't build that") that the president and many others say was taken out of context. Those three days in Tampa were all about attacking Obama's performance – on jobs, on foreign policy, on spending – and putting him in the position of having to defend that record.

The old saw is that the best defense is a good offense. Before the Republicans had even brought the gavel down on their convention, prominent Democrats were calling for a counteroffensive.

On Thursday morning, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004, made a fundraising appeal. The decorated Vietnam veteran reminded the faithful about the devastating ads from outside groups that questioned his military record.

"I have one message burned into my memory for everyone who cares about the outcome of this year's presidential election," he wrote. "Respond quickly and powerfully to attacks from the other side."

In the courtroom, the prosecution gets the first and last word because it is the party with the burden of proof. But here, it's unclear which side bears the real burden, says defense attorney Barry Scheck, co-founder of The Innocence Project but perhaps more famous for helping win an acquittal for O.J. Simpson in his murder trial.

"Is it the incumbent or the challenger?" he asks. Given the current wind conditions, he says, "I think the president's probably better served having the last word."

In the end, Romney v. Obama is being tried in the court of public opinion, and neither side is resting until Nov. 6, Election Day.

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The Huffington Post's Jaweed Kaleem reports:

Offering a benediction to close the Democratic National Convention, Cardinal Timothy Dolan largely stuck to a similar script as he did when praying in front of Republicans at their convention last week, with two notable exceptions.

"We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected," Dolan, who as the Archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has spoken out strongly against abortion, said at the DNC.

And making what seemed to be a allusion to same-sex marriage, which President Barack Obama and the DNC have endorsed, Dolan said: "Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community."

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@ HowardMortman : How does Obama speech length compare to all other acceptance speeches over last 40 years? Answer in this C-SPAN graphic http://t.co/VedEfjH3

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HuffPost's Gene Demby reports:

On Thursday afternoon, an old lady in a wheelchair and her caregiver waited near the exit of the convention center here, delayed from their next stop by one of the week's intermittent downpours.

The woman in the wheelchair was Amelia Boynton Robinson. Five decades ago, she offered up her home in Selma, Ala., to civil rights activists for use as a base of operations in their voting rights efforts. The Selma-to-Montgomery marches were planned there, and they would have seismic implications for the American political landscape.

"We were working to get the right to vote," Robinson, who is 101 years old, said slowly. In 1965, as she and other protesters tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge during a voting rights demonstration, they were brutally clubbed with nightsticks and tear-gassed by state troopers.

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The AP reports:

His re-election in doubt, President Barack Obama conceded only halting progress Thursday night toward fixing the nation's stubborn economic woes, but vowed in a Democratic National Convention finale, "Our problems can be solved, our challenges can be met."

"Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place," he declared in a prime-time speech to convention delegates and the nation that blended resolve about the challenges ahead with stinging criticism of Republican rival Mitt Romney's proposals to repair the economy.

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"We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon."

"Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together. We don’t turn back."

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Obama: "If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election."

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"If the critics are right that I’ve made all my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading."

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"I'm no longer just a candidate. I'm the president."

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@ kzaleski : A line that finally breaks through... gives crowd something new: "My fellow citizens – you were the change." #DNC2012

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Obama: "Selfless soldiers won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love."

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"So you see, the election 4 years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens you were the change."

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The Romney campaign put out a statement rebutting President Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday -- long before his remarks were even finished.

"Tonight President Obama laid out the choice in this election, making the case for more of the same policies that haven't worked for the past four years," campaign manager Matt Rhoades said in a statement. "He offered more promises, but he hasn’t kept the promises he made four years ago."

"Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record -- they know they’re not better off and that it’s time to change direction," Rhoades continued. "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will restore America’s promise and deliver a better future for our country.”

Romney said earlier in the day that he did not plan to watch Obama's speech. His full quote from before the speech, via Politico:

"I heard, or from the excerpts that are put out, I hear that the president is going to report on the promises he made and how he has performed in those promises; I'd love to watch it. But if it's another series of new promises that he's not going to keep, I have no interest in seeing him because I saw the promises last time. Those are promises he did not keep, and the American people deserve to know why he did not keep his promises."

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Obama: "We don’t think government can solve all our problems. But we don’t think that government is the source of all our problems."

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"I will never turn Medicare into a voucher. No America should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies."

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"Time to do some nation building right here at home."

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@ BuzzFeedAndrew : President Obama:"You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."

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@ MattVas : Obama: "After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy – and not al Qaeda – unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp."

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"My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy," Obama said.

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Obama: "As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known."

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@ howardfineman : No balloon drop -- it's confetti in waiting.

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@ jbendery : THERE IT IS: "Osama bin Laden is dead." - President Obama

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@ MattVas : Romney campaign issues statement on Obama's speech before the speech is over.

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@ Claire : He just walked in, and @barackobama is already breaking Twitter. 32,000 tweets/minute #dnc2012 http://t.co/nVPvNrG0

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@ BuzzFeedBen : Climate talk — almost totally absent for a couple of years — one of the biggest applause lines here.

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"Climate change is not a hoax," Obama said, noting floods and wildfires "are not a joke."

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@ Joy_Resmovits : "Help me recruit 100,000 math and science teachers in the next ten years, and improve early childhood education," Obama will say. #DNC2012

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@ jaweedkaleem : Prepared text of Obama speech: mentions values 3x, faith 2x, God 2x, religion/religion zero times #dnc2012

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@ ckanal : "You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth." -@BarackObama #DNC2012

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@ AntDeRosa : “I don’t believe that rolling back regulations on Wall Street will help the small businesswoman expand.” - @Barack Obama #DNC2012

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@ MattVas : Obama on GOP plan: “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”

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Obama referenced last week's Republican National Convention in his speech, saying Republicans were "more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn't have much to say about how they would make it right."

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@ jbendery : "If you're sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me: so am I." - President Obama #DNC2012

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@ BuzzFeedAndrew : President Obama: "I accept your nomination to be President of the United States."

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Click here for Obama's full remarks as prepared for delivery.

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Obama's daughters Sasha and Malia are seated in the audience next to the First Lady.

"Yes, you do have to go to school in the morning," Obama said to them at the start of his speech.

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@ MattVas : "Go get 'em, babe," she said to him.

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Obama has taken the stage after being introduced by his wife Michelle.

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@ jonward11 : ANOTHER positive reference to George W Bush

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@ passantino : NBC and Fox are the only broadcast networks showing this DNC video

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@ aterkel : Bill Clinton comes on the video. More cheers for him. #DNC2012

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@ HuffPostMedia : Dick Durbin getting passed over for punditry on most networks.

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Senator Dick Durbin is on stage to introduce Obama.

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@ Philip_Elliott : Biden's 20-minute speech went 37. He is now in the 10p hour CBS and ABC are broadcasting. #DNC2012

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@ mpoindc : Biden: "The work of recovery is not yet complete, but we are on our way...Cause of change is not fully accomplished, but we are on our way"

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HuffPost's Janell Ross reports:

In 2010, Gaby Pacheco was a frustrated college student planning a 1,055-mile protest walk from Florida to Washington, D.C.

The leaders and policy directors of most of the country's largest Latino Civil Rights organizations -- the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and others -- told Pacheco that the plan she had made with three other college students to march from South Florida, though the old South and to the capital, was an unreasonably dangerous "suicide mission" -- unlikely to move hearts and minds, or change public policy.

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Biden: "You never quit on America. And you deserve a president that will never quit on you."

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Biden just revived the chant "Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive!" that he started at a recent campaign event.

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@ chrisgeidner : That's Biden's fourth "literally." "Literally" did not appear in the prepared remarks. Literally. #DNC2012

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@ howardfineman : Biden (Dems) extol auto bailout as act of compassion, patriotism. It also made economic sense, but Dems don't say or perhaps get that.

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@ zachdcarter : Auto bailout triumphalism is dominating #dnc2012 Wall Street bailout totally absent.

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Loading Slideshow...
  • Birth Certificate -- "Born In The USA"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/obama-birth-certificate-r_n_854248.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(April 27, 2011) --</strong></a> The White House <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/04/27/president-obamas-long-form-birth-certificate" target="_hplink">released</a> President Barack Obama's "long form" birth certificate, adding documentation to a longstanding discussion over his ability to serve as commander in chief. "We do not have time for this kind of silliness," Obama said. "We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve." (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Osama Bin Laden Killed -- "Tonight, Tonight"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/01/osama-bin-laden-dead-killed_n_856091.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 1, 2011)</strong></a> -- In a televised address to the nation, Obama announces that Osama bin Laden is dead. His death was the result of a U.S. operation launched today in Abbottabad, Pakistan, against a compound where bin Laden was believed to be hiding. "[T]oday's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people," Obama proclaimed. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

  • Debt Ceiling Deal -- "Gold On The Ceiling"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/02/obama-debt-ceiling-deal-jobs_n_916285.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Aug. 2, 2011) --</strong></a> After the Senate passed a bill to raise the debt limit, Obama pleaded with Congress to shift their attention to jobs. "I will urge them to immediately take some steps -- bipartisan, common-sense steps -- that will make a difference; that will create a climate where businesses can hire, where folks have more money in their pockets to spend, where people who are out of work can find good jobs," he said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

  • Don't Ask Don't Tell -- "Don't Stop Believin'"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/barack-obama-dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-statement_n_971662.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Sept. 20, 2011) --</strong></a> As the ban on gays serving in the military came to an end, Obama hailed the fresh start, celebrating the fact that "patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love." (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

  • Iraq War To End -- "Homeward Bound"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/obama-iraq-troop-withdrawal_n_1024108.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Oct. 21, 2011) --</strong></a> Obama announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by 2011, fulfilling a promise that dated back to his campaign. "As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," Obama said. "So today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year." (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/obama-al-green-apollo-theater_n_1218070.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Jan. 20, 2012) --</strong></a> During a fundraiser at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater, Obama delivered a memorable musical message to his donors. With Rev. Al Green in attendance, Obama sang part of Green's hit song "Let's Stay Together," drawing strong applause from the crowd.

  • Singing Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/obama-sings-sweet-home-chicago_n_1292576.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Feb. 21, 2012) --</strong></a> Days after his Al Green rendition, Obama flexed his vocal chords again with a hometown favorite. The East Room of the White House had its blues fix filled when the president started swinging "Sweet Home Chicago."

  • Gay Marriage -- "Can't Fight This Feeling"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/obama-gay-marriage_n_1503245.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 9, 2012) --</strong></a> In a sit-down interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, Obama explained his evolution on the issue, affirming his support for gay marriage. "[A]t a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," he said.

  • Immigration -- "With Arms Wide Open"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/obama-immigration-order-deportation-dream-act_n_1599658.html " target="_hplink"><strong>(June 15, 2012) --</strong></a> The Obama administration addressed America's immigration issue, announcing that it will halt deportations and grant work permits to young individuals eligible for Dream-Act benefits. "They pledge allegiance to our flag," Obama said. "They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Health Care Reform -- "Beautiful Day"

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/supreme-court-health-care-decision_n_1585131.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(June 28, 2012) --</strong></a> After weeks of speculation that Obama's signature piece of legislation could be overturned, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is constitutional. "It should be pretty clear that I didn't do this because it's good politics," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/obama-health-care-ruling_n_1632953.html" target="_hplink">Obama said</a>. "I did it because it's good for the country." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)