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Staff and wire report
First lady Michelle Obama lovingly praised her husband Tuesday night in a prime-time Democratic Convention speech as a devoted husband and caring father at home and a “man we can trust” to revive the nation’s weak economy as president, beckoning the country to return him to the White House despite agonizingly slow recovery from recession.
“He reminds me that we are playing a long game here ... and that change is hard, and change is slow and it never happens all at once,” she told a nation impatient with slow economic progress and persistently high unemployment of 8.3 percent. “But eventually, we get there, we always do,” she said in a speech that blended scenes from 23 years of marriage with the Obamas’ time in the White House.
Mrs. Obama, given a huge ovation after being introduced by Elaine Brye of Columbiana County, a former teacher, described herself as “mom-in-chief,” but made no mention of Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But those who preceded her to the podium on the first night of the president’s convention were scathing.
“If Mitt were president, he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves,” declared former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in one biting speech.
Blasting Romney for his business practices, Strickland recalled an op-ed piece Romney “proudly wrote” and titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
To Romney, Strickland said, “American workers are just numbers on a spreadsheet. To him, all profits are created equal, whether made on our shores or off. That’s why companies Romney invested in were dubbed “outsourcing pioneers.”
“If he had had his way,” Strickland continued, “devastation would have cascaded from Michigan to Ohio and across the nation.
Romney “has so little economic patriotism,” Strickland quipped to rousing applause, “that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps.
Tapped to deliver the keynote address, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said Romney was a millionaire politician who “quite simply, doesn’t get it” when it comes to the needs of the middle class. Referring to the Republican’s support for mandatory health insurance when he was governor of Massachusetts, he added, “Gov. Romney has undergone an extreme makeover, and it ain’t pretty.”
Polls made the race for the White House a tight one, almost certain to be decided in a string of eight or 10 battleground states where neither the president nor Romney holds a clear advantage. There was ample evidence during the day of an underperforming economy, including a report that said manufacturing activity declined for a third straight month and an announcement from the Treasury that the government’s debt exceeded $16 trillion at the close of the business day.
There was no end to the appeals for donations to Obama’s re-election campaign, falling further behind Romney in cash on hand with each passing month. “If you think Barack’s the right man for the job, please show your support with a donation of $5 or more today,” the first lady emailed supporters a little more than 90 minutes before her speech.
She walked out to the crowd’s cheers as the band played Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” the song he sang onstage at Obama’s Denver convention four years ago.
The woman who introduced her, Brye, of Winona — just south of Salem, a 57-year-old former United School District science teacher, was asked to introduce the first lady’s prime-time speech, after attending a state dinner at the White House, where she sat Mrs. Obama.
Apparently, Brye left quite the impression on the first lady.
“Who’d ask just a normal person to do that?” Brye asked The Vindicator before her introduction. “It isn’t a long speech, but a lot of people will be watching. I practiced it [Monday] on stage. I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be. I’m not a professional, but it will be from the heart. I’m going to pretend I’m talking during one of my classes.”
In the speech, Brye said she is not a political person. “But what I am is a military mom. My husband and I are so proud of our five kids. One each in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines. Our youngest is still in high school, and yes — we’re hoping he’ll join the Coast Guard,” she said.
Because of Dr. Biden and the first lady, our lives are a little bit easier. Along with President Obama, they have made helping military families a top priority. They’ve brought together the American people, including thousands of businesses, to become part of a nationwide support network. It is honor and respect in action that warms this mother’s heart,” she added.”
“If someone is there for my family and families like mine, then I’ll be there for them. That’s why I’m proud to introduce my fellow mom and our first lady, Michelle Obama,” she said.
“Thank you so much, Elaine,” Obama replied when she took the stage. “We are so grateful for your family’s service and sacrifice, and we will always have your back.”
Brye and her husband, Courtney, attended the White House state dinner in March at the invitation of the first lady. They sat at the head table near the first lady and actor George Clooney.
That happened after Elaine wrote a letter to Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, in December 2011 thanking them for Joining Forces, a national initiative the two are involved with that supports military service members and their families.
It’s a cause close to the Brye family as Elaine was in the Air Force ROTC while in college and her husband was an Air Force pilot. Their four adult children are in the military and their youngest son is a junior at a military prep school.
“I wanted to thank [Obama] for caring and that’s what I did,” Brye said. “I never expected to get a response. I thought it would go into one of those big mailrooms.”
Not only did Brye get a response and the dinner invitation, but also the offer a little over a week ago to introduce the first lady at the convention.
The president was back home in the White House after a campaign appearance in Virginia as delegates cheered every mention of his name from the convention podium. He promised he’d be watching on television when his wife spoke.
“Believe it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage, “Mrs. Obama told the convention. “We were so young, so in love and so in debt.”
She confided that at family dinners in the White House with her and their daughters, the president joins in “strategizing about middle school friendships.”
Mrs. Obama’s poll numbers are better than her husband’s, and her speech was aimed at building support for him, much as Ann Romney’s remarks at last week’s Republican National Convention were in service to her husband’s presidential ambitions.
“When it comes to rebuilding our economy, Barack is thinking about folks like my dad — who worked at a municipal water plant — and his own grandmother, a bank secretary,” the first lady said.
Referring to her own children as well as those of others, she said, “If we want to give them that sense of limitless possibility, that belief that here in America there is always something better out there if you are willing to work for it, then we must ... stand together for the man we can trust to keep moving this great country forward, my husband, our president, President Barack Obama.”
The weak economy hung over the convention as it dominates the election.
Obama “knows better than anyone there’s more hard work to do” to fix it said Castro. He said that after the deep recession, the nation is making progress “despite incredible odds and united Republican opposition.”
He declared that 4.5 million jobs have been created since the president took office — though that number refers only to private sector employment gains over the past 29 months and leaves out state and local government jobs that continue to disappear each month.
Castro, the first Hispanic chosen to deliver a keynote address, was unsparing in criticizing Romney, suggesting the former Massachusetts governor might not even be the driving force on the Republican ticket this fall.
“First they called it ‘trickle down, the supply side,” he said of the economic proposals backed by Republicans. “Now it’s Romney/Ryan. Or is it Ryan/Romney?”
“Either way, their theory has been tested. It failed. ...Mitt Romney just doesn’t get it,” Castro said. Romney’s running mate is Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.