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Michelle Obama, Julian Castro highlight DNC opening night

September 04, 2012|By Mark Z. Barabak
  • First Lady Michelle Obama waves during a pre-convention run-through on the stage of the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.
First Lady Michelle Obama waves during a pre-convention run-through on… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The patchwork quilt that is the Democratic Party base -- women, Latinos, African-Americans -- will be on full display at Tuesday night's opening session of the national party convention.

The highlight will be a prime-time address by First Lady Michelle Obama who is expected to play the same role Ann Romney did one week ago at the GOP gathering in Tampa: eschewing hard-edged politics for a soft-focus testimonial to her husband.

The keynote speech will be delivered by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, marking the first time a Latino has delivered the marquee speech that has sometimes served as a political launching pad to bigger and better things. (See, most famously, Obama's 2004 keynote address in Boston.)

Castro, 37, is considered one of the party's brightest prospects and a likely candidate for higher office in Texas, which has been a desert for Democrats (none has won statewide election since 1994) but holds new hope as the Latino population grows in number and political clout.

Joining Obama and Castro in the coveted prime-time hour--the one slice of convention programming the major TV networks have promised to carry live--is Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is widely believed to be eyeing a White House bid in 2016.

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Also on the agenda are speeches by Los Angeles Rep. Xavier Becerra, Charlotte's African-American mayor, Anthony Foxx, and several women, including 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 are simple: Obama and the Democrats hope to drive up enthusiasm among the key groups 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 point in 2008.

Closing that gap as well as a lag in enthusiasm among younger voters will be one of the  big goals for Democrats this week.

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mark.barabak@latimes.com

Twitter: @markzbarabak

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