Obama offers vision of path ahead

jmorrill@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 7, 2012 

  • The crowd reacts • State Sen. Emanuel Jones, 53, of Decatur, Ga., a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, said: “The president laid out exactly what he’s going to do in the next four years. What excited me the most was his passion, sincerity and convictions for America and Americans.” Carmen Cusido • Christine Harrill, 25, a senior political science major at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, said she appreciated that President Barack Obama said student loan interest would not go up. She currently has $20,000 in student loans and will be the first college graduate in her family. Harrill, a member of the Young Democrats, also was glad to hear the president wouldn’t turn Medicare into Vouchercare. “I want to make sure I have Medicare when I retire in 50 years.” Carmen Cusido • Pennsylvania delegate Raye Johnson, 66: “I approved of it 100 percent. I thought he was very detailed with his plan for the future.” On what the Obama campaign slogan FORWARD means to her: “I remember those days when we couldn’t make decisions regarding your body.” Now, “we’re out in the open.” Also: “I like that we’re an inclusive society...When you discriminate against one, you discriminate against all. We want to build an inclusive society.” Celeste Smith • Gaston County volunteer Kim Fair ran to hug her husband, Darrell, after the president’s speech. Both were 9-3-1 volunteers with the campaign, which meant they’d get credentials for the stadium speech. When they learned the stadium event was cancelled, Kim Fair said they quickly finished their volunteer training to get into the much smaller Time Warner Cable Arena. “It was, oh my goodness. He is just so eloquent. It moved me so much... What he stands for, how he loves his wife…I’m just so inspired by him and Michelle and his family.” Celeste Smith • NC delegate Steve Ivester, 68, from Hickory, described Obama’s speech and the entire convention as “a moment in history.” “I felt like this convention was North Carolina’s gift to the nation.” Franco Ordonez • Elizabeth Glynn, 46, of Newton, said she’s never been moved to tears by speeches. But she cried several times during President Obama’s and Michelle Obama’s speeches. “I don’t know how people could not have caught on fire. I have never been at anything like this before,” Glynn said. The chair of the Catawba County Democrats said her job now is to take this energy to her community. Franco Ordonez .

President Barack Obama closed his party’s convention in Charlotte Thursday night by laying out a case for a second term and casting the election as a choice between “two fundamentally different visions for the future.”

Speaking to a national audience and an overflowing uptown arena, the president – joined by over 40 other Democratic speakers – offered a spirited defense of his record and a sharp contrast to Republican Mitt Romney on issues, from Medicare to mending the economy.

At times, Obama appeared almost solemn as he acknowledged that the fight back from the financial meltdowns of 2008 has been difficult.

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy,” he said. “It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one. And by the way … not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictated from Washington.

“But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future.”

Casting himself as the friend-in-chief of average workers, the president spoke to thousands of cheering delegates in Time Warner Cable Arena, transformed into a sea of flag- and sign-waving supporters.

Obama’s speech capped a night designed to energize his base and reassure voters frustrated by a lingering recession. Four years after promising hope and change, Obama – grayer and wearing the burdens of the job – acknowledged the latter would be hard.

“America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now,” he said. While Thursday’s spotlight burned brightest on Obama, Charlotte was clearly a co-star – as it has been all week – as host of one of the biggest events in its history.

A dazzling picture of the city’s lit-up skyline was among the images that popped up on a 60-foot screen in the arena. And one speaker after another touted the city’s hospitality and its emergence as not only a capital of business but also – at least for a week– the the country’s political center of gravity.

In fact, by Thursday, the city’s name had become shorthand for the convention itself. “Hello, Charlotte!” hollered A-list actress Eva Longoria to the arena crowd. She didn’t need the “N.C.”

Hopes for an even more spectacular finale were literally dampened by rain. The decision to move the president’s speech indoors produced palpable disappointment – not to mention organizers’ dashed dreams of TV images of a packed Bank of America Stadium or a skyline lit by fireworks and a red-white-and-blue Duke Energy Building.

With no time after the venue change to arrange a balloon drop, confetti rained down on the stage and some delegations.

Democrats brought their convention to North Carolina to gain an edge in a battleground state where recent polls show a close race with Romney enjoying a small lead.

Obama told his audience that voters face “the clearest choice of any time in a generation.” Like others, he invoked “middle-class” as a sort of mantra.

“I refuse to ask middle-class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaires’tax cut,” he said. “I refuse to ask students to pay more for college; or kick children out of Head Start programs, or eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor, elderly, or disabled – all so those with the most can pay less.”

He mocked the economic prescriptions offered by his opponents.

“Ours is a fight to restore the values that built the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known,” he said. “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.”

A day after former President Bill Clinton gave an impassioned defense of the last four years, Democrats began taking ownership of the administration’s record on issues such as health care, gay marriage and on foreign policy.

In video clips, real people talked about how they benefited from Obama’s effort to save the auto industry, from his health care act, his support for same sex marriage and of veterans.

Speakers portrayed Obama as a defender of average Americans and a decisive leader.

“Osama bin Laden is dead,” Vice President Joe Biden said. “And General Motors is alive,”

After decades of losing out to Republicans on the issue of who’s tougher on national defense, Democrats reached out to male voters and veterans by pressing Obama’s record as a commander in chief who has presided over the killing of terrorists, toppling of dictators and ending the war in Iraq.

“Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., playing off the GOP’s campaign question about the economy.

Kerry, a Vietnam vet and likely candidate for Secretary of State in a second Obama administration, also led Thursday night’s charge against Romney, casting him as a flip-flopping amateur on foreign policy.

Kerry called Romney and running mate Paul Ryan “the most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.”

Obama criticized Republican calls for more defense spending, he said he would use savings from winding down two overseas wars.

“After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars,” he said, “it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home.”

Biden did double-duty by portraying Obama as a courageous and big-hearted decision maker and Romney as a corporate executive who thinks in terms of bottom line instead of people’s needs.

Stressing his own working-class roots, Biden zeroed in on the president’s record of saving auto jobs – and Romney’s opposition to the bailout.

“He saw it the Bain way,” Biden said. “He saw it in terms of balance sheets and write-offs," Biden said, referring to Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney used to lead. “The Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits, but it’s not the way to lead your country from the highest office.”

Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University, said Obama’s speech was not the convention’s most exciting or empowering – that title went to former President Bill Clinton, he said.

But Huffmon said the president did succeed in contrasting himself with Romney and the Republicans and by communicating “this common thread: ‘We’re looking out for you and they’re not.’  ”

The convention’s final night had been scheduled for Bank of America Stadium. But with thunderstorms forecast, organizers decided Wednesday to move it to the arena. The switch disappointed the 65,000 people with credentials. The campaign set up a watch party at the Knight Theater in uptown and 5,000 across the country.

While the mood was euphoric on the convention floor, some North Carolinians acknowledged that they’d heard from constituents crushed that they wouldn’t be able to see the president deliver his acceptance speech in person.

“Surely they were disappointed and many of them worked hours (as Obama campaign volunteers) to get those tickets,” said Charlotte’s Pat Cotham, a member of the Democratic National Committee. “But people want to be safe.”

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., said he had to face 150 “extremely disappointed” ministers at a church summit who’d been counting on cheering Obama in the stadium.

But, Watt said, “the president is going to be back a number of times before the election . . . We’re going to see a lot of President Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden.”

Rain wasn’t the only thing that dampened the convention. Some visitors complained about extensive security that made it hard to get around. Others griped about their lodging. One Texan, staying in Concord, told fellow delegates, “Let this be the last time they put us out in the boonies.”

But the city also got more positive reviews.

“The Queen City is getting unanimously rave reviews from delegates, operatives and reporters,” said Mike Allen, Politico’s White House correspondent. Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan said the convention “far exceeded my expectations in terms of the positive energy on the street, the overwhelming number of cool things to do.”

Holding the convention in Charlotte garnered at least 6,000 volunteers for Obama. Some walked the streets during convention week registering voters. It paid off.

“No state has registered more voters than the great blue state of North Carolina.” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told the convention.

Morrill: 704-358-5059

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