US Democrats gather in Charlotte
Democrats launch their case for Barack Obama's re-election at their party convention today, looking to draw a sharp contrast with Republican Mitt Romney and convince voters that the US president deserves four more years to fix the economy.
A speech by first lady Michelle Obama caps the opening night of the three-day gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina, which concludes with Mr Obama's acceptance of the nomination in an address on Thursday in a 74,000-seat downtown football stadium.
The convention gives Mr Obama a chance to recapture the political spotlight from Mr Romney and the Republicans, who used their gathering last week to repeatedly attack Mr Obama's economic leadership.
The task for Mr Obama and his allies will be to persuade voters disappointed by his first White House term that things will be better the second time around, while portraying the budget-slashing economic remedies offered by Mr Romney and his running mate, congressman Paul Ryan, as unacceptable alternatives.
"The real issue now in the election is: who's got the best plan going forward?" Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who speaks to the convention tomorrow, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" program.
"Mitt Romney has made clear what his plan is: cut taxes for the richest Americans and the biggest corporations, increase taxes on the middle class and don't make any investments in the future. Barack Obama says that's not the right way to do it," she said.
Mr Ryan and Republicans kept the pressure on Democrats with a question they highlighted after their convention last week: Are voters better off after nearly four years of Obama?
"We're not better off than we were four years ago. Look at all the statistics," Mr Ryan said on "Good Morning America," citing the slow economic recovery and 8.3 per cent unemployment rate.
Republicans also criticised Mr Obama for telling a Colorado television reporter last night that he would give himself a grade of "incomplete" for his first term.
"If president Obama can't even give himself a passing grade, why would the American people give him another four years?" Mr Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.
Mr Romney and Mr Obama are running close in opinion polls ahead of the November 6th election, but Mr Obama hopes to get more of a convention "bounce" in polls than Mr Romney, who gained a few percentage points at most from the Tampa, Florida, event.
A Gallup poll yesterday showed Mr Romney's speech last week got the worst scores of any convention acceptance address going back to 1996, when it began measuring them. Some 38 per cent rated the speech as excellent or good; the previous worst had been Republican John McCain's in 2008, at 47 per cent.
Democrats plan to use their convention to highlight the party's diversity, featuring a lineup of black, Hispanic and young speakers to appeal to the voting blocs that helped propel Mr Obama to a comfortable victory in 2008.
The keynote speaker today will be San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a Hispanic rising star in the party.
Michelle Obama's speech will counter a successful Republican convention appearance last week by Mr Romney's wife, Ann, who helped present a softer and more personal side of him to voters, who polls show have had a hard time warming up to the sometimes stiff former Massachusetts governor.
"I think the first lady plays a special role because she will have personal perspective on the president's leadership - his grit and determination during a challenging time for our nation," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
"She is a character witness for the president and someone who can address how he has made decisions as the nation has confronted these challenges," he said.
While Republicans focused at their convention on attacking Mr Obama and helping voters get to know Mr Romney, Democrats have in some ways a more difficult task of keeping up voter enthusiasm for an incumbent in tough economic times.
They will spell out Mr Obama's successes during his first term - from ordering the mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to the bailout of the auto industry.
The opening session will convene at 5pm EDT (10pm Irish time), and Democrats will approve their non-binding party platform, which includes calls for higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans and support for same-sex marriage and a woman's right to abortion.
Former president Jimmy Carter will be featured in a video today. Former president Bill Clinton will tomorrow highlight the slate of speakers in an address that could remind voters of his Democratic-led economic growth in the 1990s while appealing to the white working-class Democrats that Mr Obama has had difficulty winning over.