Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Democratic Convention Kicks Off In Charlotte

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.

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