Huffpost Politics

Democratic Convention Kicks Off In Charlotte

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By CALVIN WOODWARD AND JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Four years later Democrats have gathered again, this time in support of a president who carries the power and the burden of incumbency, both in evidence as the opening gavel is struck at the Democratic National Convention.

President Barack Obama demonstrated the power Monday in a convention-eve visit to hurricane-stricken lands in Louisiana, offering aid and empathy. His burden is a ragged economy that is at the core of the hotly competitive contest with Republican Mitt Romney.

Michelle Obama's speech Tuesday night is an early highlight of a three-day schedule that has drawn thousands of delegates to a state Obama narrowly carried in 2008. 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 a stadium for his speech later in the week.

If hurricanes have no politics, the aftermath does. Obama's visit to stricken St. John the Baptist Parish outside New Orleans after a spirited Labor Day rally in battleground Ohio demonstrated, if in muted form, the partisan divide that cleaves the presidential campaign.

Obama emphasized the government's determination to lend a strong helping hand. Romney focused on neighbor helping neighbor in his visit days earlier, even though both support a mix of emergency aid from the taxpayer and volunteerism in response to natural disasters.

"We're here to help," Obama told residents during a brief tour Monday, going from lawn to lawn in a neighborhood of brick homes and front yards loaded with soggy but orderly piles of debris, the floodwaters receded. He told another family of the steps officials were taking to address the damage, adding, "I promise you that now that I've been here, they're going to make sure that they do it right."

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.

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.

The president rallies in Virginia on Tuesday before joining the convention a day later. With flourishes but no suspense, Democrats will march through the roll call of states renominating Obama for president and Joe Biden for vice president 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 – a further redemption of sorts, at least from his party, for a leader who survived impeachment over sexual scandal.

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.

[Story continues below. Scroll down for live blog updates.]

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His convention behind him, Romney relaxed at his lakeside home in New Hampshire with his family as Obama and Biden sought to motivate union voters to support them in difficult economic times. Romney took a midmorning boat ride, pulling up to a dock to fuel up his 29-foot Sea Ray and pick up a jet ski that had been in for repairs.

In his Labor Day statement, Romney said, "For far too many Americans, today is another day of worrying when their next paycheck will come."

The Republican convention last week heard testimonials from a colleague of Romney at Bain Capital and from the founder of Staples, the office supply chain that grew from the private-equity firm's investments. Democrats, focused on enterprises that closed or moved overseas after Romney's firm got involved, are giving speaking time to workers from Bain-controlled companies who will tell the other side of the story.

Campaigning on Saturday in Cincinnati, Romney had likened Obama to a football coach with a record of 0 and 23 million, a reference to the number of unemployed and underemployed Americans.

Obama offered a play-by-play rebuttal 48 hours later.

"On first down he hikes taxes by nearly $2,000 on the average family with kids in order to pay for massive tax cuts for multimillionaires," Obama said in his Toledo rally. "Sounds like unnecessary roughness to me.

"On second down he calls an audible and undoes reforms that are there to prevent another financial crisis and bank bailout. ...

"And then on third down, he calls for a hail Mary, ending Medicare as we know it by giving seniors a voucher that leaves them to pay any additional cost out of their pockets. But there's a flag on the play: Loss of up to an additional $6,400 a year for the same benefits you get now."

Romney denies that his plan to help the economy and reduce federal deficits will result in higher taxes for the middle class. But he has yet to provide enough detail to refute the claim. Obama's assertion rests on a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

The candidates have been tangling heatedly over Medicare, with Romney reminding voters that Obama cut more than $700 billion over 10 years from the program to help pay for his health care law's expansion of insurance to more Americans. The president has gone after the Republican ticket for the idea of letting future retirees have the option of buying private insurance with government subsidies.

As for the auto bailout that Obama steered and Romney opposed, Obama told the audience, "Three years later, the American auto industry has come roaring back. Nearly 250,000 new jobs."

Obama came out with a campaign commercial asserting that, under Romney, "a middle-class family will pay an average of up to $2,000 more a year in taxes, while at the same time giving multimillionaires like himself a $250,000 tax cut." Aides said it would be seen in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, the battleground states where the 2012 race for the White House is likely to be decided.

The president and aides have acknowledged for weeks that they and the groups supporting them are likely to be outspent by Romney, and recent figures say that has been the case in television advertising in the battleground states for much of the past two months.

A few blocks from the convention hall in Charlotte, union members staged a Labor Day march through downtown. Though supporting Obama, they also expressed frustration that he and the Democrats chose to hold their convention in a state that bans collective bargaining for teachers and other public employees.

There was disagreement among the ranks of the marchers. "I understand their frustration ... but do they really think they're going to be better off with Romney?" said Phil Wheeler, 70, a delegate from Connecticut and a retired member of United Auto Workers Local 376 in Hartford.

Democrats chose North Carolina for their convention to demonstrate their determination to contest it in the fall campaign. 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.

Republicans ramped up their counterprogramming as the opening of the Democrats' convention approached.

"People are not better off than they were four years ago," said Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, campaigning in Greenville, N.C. "After another four years of this, who knows what it'll look like then."

Obama's top campaign aides and allies had flinched from saying Sunday that the average American is better off than four years ago, but they – and Biden – hastily recalibrated their response overnight.

"You want to know whether we're better off?" Biden asked a campaign crowd in Detroit. "I've got a little bumper sticker for you: `Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.'"

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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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