CHARLOTTE — First lady Michelle Obama headlined the opening Tuesday of the Democratic National Convention, an emotion-charged finale to an opening act designed to build enthusiasm among women and minorities whose votes are critical to re-electing her husband.
“We must work like never before,” she told the convention, urging them to help President Barack Obama defeat Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
She asked supporters to rally to her husband’s side as they did in first helping him win the White House four years ago. “And we must once again come together and stand together for the man we can trust to keep moving this great county forward, my husband, our president, President Barack Obama.”
In a largely personal tale, the first lady tried to connect her husband to working Americans, talking about his humble beginnings, his decision to forgo a high-paying career in favor of community work and public service, and about his life as a loving husband and father.
She recounted her husband’s modest upbringing by a single mother and his grandparents, and their life as a young married couple who had student loan bills higher than their mortgage.
“Today, after so many struggles and triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are – it reveals who you are,” she said in prepared remarks.
The first lady – lauded earlier by her brother, Craig Robinson, and her sister-in-law, Maya Soetoro-Ng – told the thousands at Time Warner Cable Arena that Obama had worked tirelessly to make the economy more stable, ease college students loans and improve health care.
“He believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity … you do not slam it shut behind you … you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed,” she said.
Her appeal capped an opening day that included the adoption of a party platform that for the first time embraces gay marriage but dropped the party’s earlier support for Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital. Republicans quickly pounced on the omission, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia saying the administration was distancing itself from Israel.
The platform also stirred controversy with another omission: no reference to God. It also included strong support for abortion rights.
Speakers for a changing nation
A diverse parade of speakers included San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the first Latino keynote speaker in convention history, as well as the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the first woman to reach the rank of Army three-star general, African-American members of Congress, and the convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Together, they served as a not-so-subtle nod to the changing demographics of the nation.
“My family’s story isn’t special. What’s special is the America that makes our story possible,” Castro said in prepared remarks. “Ours is a nation like no other – a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation. … No matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward.”
The nearly 6,000 delegates from across the nation who poured into Charlotte made up a noticeably younger, more diverse crowd than the smaller group that met in Tampa last week for the Republican National Convention. Women make up half the DNC delegates. Twenty-seven percent are African-American while 13 percent are Hispanic.
“President Obama believes in the promise of America. President Obama believes in you. That’s the American dream – el sueño Americano,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra of California. “Dr. King marched for it. Cesar Chavez organized for it. And this fall, we have to vote for it.”
Lisa Fricke, a retired teacher and convention delegate from Nebraska, said she has tried to convince members of the large Hispanic population of her town about the need to cast ballots.
“I don’t think they understand how important this vote is,” said Fricke, who wore a half-dozen buttons, including those that said: “Proud Nebraska Democrat” and “Educators for Obama.”
Democrats in a party mood
At times the convention had a party feel, with delegates dancing to the tunes of songwriter Ledisi and bursting into chants: “Four more years!” They cheered when former President Jimmy Carter spoke to them by video. They listened to speeches from top officials with labor and abortion rights groups and Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
“For me, politics is an extension of my role as a mother and a grandmother,” Pelosi said. “For the Democratic women of the House, our work is not about the next election, but rather the next generation.”