Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addresses the delegates during… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Democrats opened their national convention Tuesday with a series of broadsides against Republican nominee Mitt Romney and a checklist of promises delivered, they say, by President Obama in spite of the worst economy in more than half a century.
While saying more work must be done, one speaker after another touted the progress under the Democratic incumbent and contrasted it with the tried-and-failed policies they forecast under a Romney administration.
“Republicans tell us that if the most prosperous among us do even better, that somehow the rest of us will, too,” Julian Castro, the night’s keynote speaker, said in remarks prepared for delivery to thousands of delegates inside the Charlotte arena.
“First they called it ‘trickle-down.’ Then ‘supply side.’ Now it’s ‘Romney/Ryan,’ or is it ‘Ryan/Romney?’ ” Castro said, referring to Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee and architect of the House GOP’s budget plan.
Castro, 37, the first Latino to deliver a convention keynote speech, is to be followed by First Lady Michelle Obama, who was expected to forgo hard-edged rhetoric in favor of the kind of soft-focus testimonial Ann Romney delivered on behalf of her husband at last week’s GOP gathering.
Speaking on a noon conference call with several female newspaper columnists, Michelle Obama said, “I want to remind people about who my husband is.”
“Tonight’s a big night for me and for the Democratic Party,” she said. “ I want to remind people about his qualities and the experiences that make my husband the man and the president he is today.”
The speeches highlighted a program that put on full display the patchwork quilt that is the Democratic Party base, with a program full of women, Latino and African-American speakers.
Apart from Castro and Mrs. Obama, delegates heard from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker. Also on the schedule were Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff in a pay-equity discrimination suit rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier to pursue such claims, was the first bill signed into law by President Obama.
The politics of the programming were straightforward: Obama and the Democrats hope to drive up enthusiasm among the constituencies he needs to offset weakened support among white voters, especially blue-collar men.
Polls suggest an enthusiasm gap. An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey last month found just 49% of Latinos expressed high interest in the upcoming election, down about 20 points from roughly this time in 2008. Closing that gap as well as reversing a lag in enthusiasm among younger voters will be one of the big goals for Democrats at their three-day convention.
“If, by the end of this week, you don’t think we’ve hit it with Latinos and women, than we haven’t done our job,” said one highly placed Democrat who requested anonymity to discuss the Obama campaign’s strategic thinking.
Another task was to answer Republican assertions that Obama’s was a failed presidency, marked by division and a string of broken promises.
With GOP nominee Mitt Romney closeted in debate preparation, his running mate took up the campaign’s cudgel Tuesday, comparing Obama to President Carter at a rally in suburban Cleveland.
“When it comes to jobs, President Obama makes the Jimmy Carter years look like good old days,” Ryan told about 1,000 supporters. “If we fired Jimmy Carter then, why would we rehire Barack Obama now?”
The response from Democrats was to cite a litany of achievements — canted, of course, to place the president in the most favorable light.
In his remarks, Castro joined others praising Obama for creating 4.5 million private-sector jobs, a figure offset by population growth and sizable job losses in the public sector. The result has been stubbornly high unemployment throughout Obama’s presidency, a fact that was acknowledged only indirectly.
Speakers were unstinting in their criticisms of Ryan and Romney. They attacked their proposal to revamp Medicare, the government healthcare program for older and disabled Americans, and replace it with a voucher system.
They invoked some of Romney’s more controversial supporters, including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, hard-liners on the illegal immigration issue.