At Democratic convention, Obama seeks to keep voters on his side
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- President Barack Obama and his supporters will seek to convince voters at the Democratic National Convention to stick with the president they know rather than gamble on Republican rival Mitt Romney -- a challenge since most Americans say the country is heading in the wrong direction.
Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden campaigned separately across three battleground states Sunday as delegates descended on the Democrats' convention city for two days of partying before their first official meeting Tuesday in the Time Warner Cable Arena.
The economy is the dominant issue of the campaign, and Biden's itinerary, in particular, underscored the threat that a sluggish recovery and high, 8.3 per cent unemployment pose to Democrats seeking another term in power. He was in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states that have received little attention previously as the candidates, their parties and outside allies concentrate on the areas of the country deemed most competitive. His presence suggested the race in both states was tightening.
Obama spoke on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, and made his by-now familiar plea for students to register and vote. He benefited enormously from the support of younger voters four years ago and can ill-afford a fall-off in their support -- or enthusiasm-- in 2012.
Democrats regard passage of a sweeping health care law as a high point of achievement for Obama during his term. Yet the law has also unified Republicans who argue it amounts to a government takeover of the health care system and a budget-buster to boot.
Obama has lately been eager to answer his critics, and he did more than that in his speech.
"Gov. Romney promised that on his first day in office he's gonna sit right down, grab a pen and repeal Obamacare," the president said, referring to the law by the name Republicans first attached to it as an insult.
"What that means is that right away he'd kick 7 million young people off their parents' plan. He'd take hope away from tens of millions of American with pre-exiting conditions by repealing reform," the president said.
"You know, he calls it Obamacare. I like the name. I do care. .... I don't know exactly what the other side is proposing; I guess you could call it 'Romney doesn't care.' But this law is here to stay."
Romney has provided only a few details of his plans to replace the law he wants to wipe off the books. In particular, he says the requirement for coverage -- also part of a state law he signed as governor of Massachusetts -- should not apply nationally. He proposes to guarantee that a person who is "continuously covered" for a certain period be protected against losing insurance if he gets sick, leaves his job and needs another policy.
Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, said, "It is outrageous and offensive for President Obama to suggest that the majority of Americans who oppose Obamacare do not care about Americans suffering with serious, long-term medical conditions."
Romney spent Sunday at his Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, vacation home, leaving only to attend Mormon church services with his wife, Ann. Aides said he would spend much of the Democrats' convention week preparing for three fall debates with Obama, beginning on Oct. 3.
Running mate Paul Ryan was booked into North Carolina, counterprogramming the Democratic convention rhetoric.
Obama was touring four battleground states before heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, for his party's convention. His schedule for Monday includes a Labor Day rally in Toledo, Ohio, before a presidential trip to Louisiana to inspect damage from Hurricane Isaac. Romney visited Louisiana on Friday.
The president's target audience during the three-day convention is the small sliver of undecided voters in battleground states who will be critical to the outcome of what polls show is a tight race with two months to go.
The U.S. president is not chosen by a nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests. In tight elections, as the November vote is expected to be, battleground states -- which are neither reliably Republican nor Democratic -- are especially important.
At the convention, Obama's campaign will try to revive some of its insurgent, grassroots appeal from 2008 by using technology to let people participate in the convention. That effort also will help Obama's team collect more data on voters.
Starting Tuesday, a parade of high-profile speakers will stand on a blue-carpeted stage to vouch for Obama's economic agenda, which his team says is focused on the middle class: ending tax cuts for the rich and reducing the debt, while spending more on education, energy and infrastructure.
The Democratic convention starts less than a week after Republicans gathered in Tampa, Florida, to nominate the Romney-Ryan ticket. Democrats hope that by holding their convention second, Obama can emerge with momentum on his side as the race for the White House bounds into its final stretch.
Obama will largely be responsible for generating that momentum. He will close the convention Thursday night with a speech in an outdoor football stadium, just as he did in Denver in 2008.
Aides say Obama won't ignore the economic woes that have defined his four years in the White House. But they say he plans to focus largely on the future, and why he believes his policies will succeed in a second term.
The convention opens Tuesday with first lady Michelle Obama, whose popularity far surpasses her husband's, as a featured speaker. San Antonio, Texas, Mayor Julian Castro also is slated for that night. He will be the first Hispanic to deliver the Democratic convention's keynote address. Their roles on the convention's opening night are part of Democrats' efforts to shore up support among women and Hispanics, two crucial voting blocs where Obama holds an advantage over Romney.
Former President Bill Clinton, who is emerging as one of the campaign's most effective surrogates, will headline the convention Wednesday and formally nominate Obama. He hopes to remind voters of the flush economy he presided over and make the case that Obama's policies will lead to similar results.
Biden and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry will address the large stadium crowd Thursday night before Obama speaks. Kerry, seen as a potential second-term secretary of state under Obama, will try to capitalize on the Democratic Party's rare advantage on national security issues. He is expected to trumpet Obama's decision to order the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the president's plan to end the Afghanistan war.
Obama picked Charlotte as his convention site in part to help boost his chances of holding onto North Carolina, a state he moved into the Democratic column in 2008 for the first time in decades.
Some 800 demonstrators marched through the streets of Charlotte around the convention hall, protesting what they call corporate greed as well as U.S. drone strikes overseas, said to kill children as well as terrorists. Dozens of police officers walked along with the protesters' parade, carrying gas masks, wooden batons and plastic hand ties. One arrest was reported, for public intoxication.