Democrats launched a vigorous defense of President Barack Obama on Tuesday and urged voters to give him another term to fix the economy as they opened their national convention with sharp criticism of Republican hopeful Mitt Romney.
A host of speakers at the gathering in Charlotte attacked Romney for his business record, refusal to release more tax returns and for spearheading a Republican "war on women."
The Democrats even choreographed a swipe at the former executive from beyond the grave, by playing a video of late Sen. Ted Kennedy getting the better of Romney during a debate in the 1994 election campaign for Kennedy's Senate seat.
The convention gives Obama a chance to seize the political spotlight from his rival who held his own nominating convention in Tampa last week, and offer a roadmap of how he would rekindle strong job growth.
While Obama himself is expected to concentrate on his own vision for the economy during his acceptance speech in a 74,000-capacity football stadium on Thursday night, many speakers took full aim at Romney.
One of the most exuberant attackers was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who recently made a controversial claim that the former Massachusetts governor had paid no income taxes for 10 years, which was shot down by Romney.
Reid took up the tax argument again at the convention.
"Mitt Romney says we should take his word that he paid his fair share? His word? Trust comes from transparency, and Mitt Romney comes up short on both," Reid said.
About two dozen Democratic women members of the House of Representatives and congressional candidates took the stage together to knock the Republicans for their opposition to abortion rights.
A TIGHT RACE
Romney and Obama are running about even in polls before the Nov. 6 election, but Obama hopes to get more of a convention "bounce" in polls than his opponent, who gained a few percentage points at most from his party's meeting in Tampa last week.
A Reuters/Ipsos online poll on Tuesday gave Romney a 1-point edge on Obama, 46 percent to 45 percent.
A speech by first lady Michelle Obama is the main event Tuesday evening kicking off the three-day gathering, which concludes with Obama's acceptance of the nomination in an address on Thursday in the Bank of America football stadium.
The Democrats highlighted Obama's successes during his first term — from ordering the mission that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to the bailout of the auto industry — while reminding voters of the difficulties Obama faced when he took office.
"Four years ago, America stood on the brink of a depression," Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, will say, according to excerpts of his speech due to be delivered later in the evening.
"Despite incredible odds and united Republican opposition, our president took action. And now we've seen 4.5 million new jobs. He knows better than anyone that there's more hard work to do. But we're making progress," he will say in the keynote speech.
Republicans stayed on the offensive, criticizing Obama for telling a Colorado television reporter that he would give himself a grade of "incomplete" for his first term.
"The kind of recession we had, we should be bouncing out of it," Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan told CBS' "This Morning." "We're not creating jobs at near the pace we could. That's why we're offering big solutions for the big problems we have today."
Obama's economic argument got a little tougher. New surveys showed U.S. manufacturing shrank at its sharpest clip in more than three years last month, while exports and hiring in the sector also slumped.
Michelle Obama's speech will counter a successful Republican convention appearance last week by Romney's wife, Ann, who helped present a softer and more personal side of her husband.
"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," said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
Obama planned to watch his wife's speech from the White House with his daughters. "I'm going to try not to let them see daddy cry," he told supporters at the Norfolk State University rally. "Because when Michelle starts talking, I start getting all misty."
Romney will cede the political spotlight to Obama and stay off the campaign trail for most of this week. He spent Tuesday in Vermont, preparing for the three presidential debates that begin on Oct. 3.
He was working with Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is playing the role of Obama in practice sessions, as well as top campaign aides.
Former President Bill Clinton, who presided over economic boom times in his 1990s White House years, is the main Wednesday speaker. A campaign TV ad featuring Clinton talking up Obama's leadership has been playing on Charlotte stations.
Organizers were nervously watching the weather. Scattered thunderstorms were predicted for Thursday night, when Obama is scheduled to give his speech in an open-air stadium.
The speech could be moved back to the much smaller basketball arena that hosts the first two sessions. But Obama campaign officials did not want to do that unless absolutely necessary.
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