CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Democrats open their national convention Tuesday in defense of a president who carries both the power and the burden of incumbency, offering President Barack Obama as the best choice to revive the ragged U.S. economy and asking Americans to be patient with incomplete results so far.
Michelle Obama's evening speech will be 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.
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. But she insisted that Obama offers the better vision going forward.
"Republicans are not helping us get back," she said.
Warren was up against GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, who held out the millions of people who are struggling to find work as an indictment of the president's first term.
"Four years into a presidency and it's incomplete?" he asked in a round of morning television interviews. "The president is asking people just to be patient with him?"
GOP nominee Mitt Romney's campaign reinforced that message with a new web video answering Obama's statement that "There are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery." The new video showcases a series of ordinary Americans who've lost their jobs saying, "I'm an American, not a bump in the road."
Romney, his convention behind him, planned to spend the day in Vermont preparing for the fall debates with Obama.
If the economy is Obama's burden, he demonstrated the power of the presidency with a convention-eve visit to hurricane-stricken lands in Louisiana, offering aid and empathy. The president emphasized the government's determination to lend a strong helping hand. Romney, for his part, focused on neighbor helping neighbor in his visit days earlier, though both support a mix of emergency aid from the taxpayer and volunteerism in response to natural disasters.
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.
Obama's big acceptance speech is Thursday, and Democrats were closely monitoring the weather forecast. Officials had to decide by Tuesday whether to proceed with plans to hold the final night of the convention in an outdoor stadium or move it to a smaller indoor arena. Heavy evening rains doused Charlotte over the Labor Day weekend. Thursday's forecast calls for a chance of rain.
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.
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.
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.
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.