His re-election in doubt, President Barack Obama conceded only halting progress Thursday night toward fixing the nation’s stubborn economic woes, but vowed in a Democratic National Convention finale, “Our problems can be solved, our challenges can be met.”
“The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place,” Obama declared in advance excerpts of a prime-time speech to delegates and the nation.
The president’s speech was the final act of a pair of highly scripted national political conventions in two weeks, and the opening salvo of a two-month drive toward Election Day that pits Obama against Republican rival Mitt Romney. The contest is close for the White House in a dreary season of economic struggle for millions.
David Betras, a delegate and chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, said Obama and Vice President Joe Biden “drew a clear distinction between the Democratic and Republican visions of America: for Democrats a job is about more than a paycheck, it’s about dignity, it’s about the most important family value: being able to provide for your kids.”
Betras, who was attending his first convention, continued: “For the GOP a job and the person who does it are mere entries on a balance sheet, entries to be manipulated in order to generate profits for corporations rather than opportunity for people.”
Obama’s and Romney’s differing approach to the domestic auto industry made that distinction sharp, he said. Obama’s bailout of the industry was about people “including the tens of thousands of people in the Valley directly and indirectly connected to the Lordstown plant” who make cars.
Romney, on the other hand, said let Detroit go bankrupt, which would have extinguished “the light of the American Dream for the millions of people who depend on the auto industry for jobs and the dignity and security those jobs bestow,” Betras said.
That, he said, makes this election the clearest choice in a generation.
In the run-up to Obama’s speech, delegates erupted in tumultuous cheers when former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, grievously wounded in a 2011 assassination attempt, walked onstage to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. The cheers grew louder when she blew kisses to the crowd.
And louder still when huge video screens inside the hall showed the face of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind killed in a daring raid on his Pakistani hideout by U.S. special operations forces — on a mission approved by the current commander in chief.
With unemployment at 8.3 percent, Obama said the task of recovering from the economic disaster of 2008 is exceeded in American history only by the challenge Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced when he took office in the Great Depression in 1933.
“It will require common effort, shared responsibility and the kind of bold persistent experimentation” that FDR employed, Obama said.
In an appeal to independent voters who might be considering a vote for Romney, he added that those who carry on Roosevelt’s legacy “should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.”
The hall was filled to capacity long before Obama stepped to the podium, and officials shut off the entrances because of a fear of overcrowding for a speech that the campaign had originally slated for the 74,000-seat football stadium nearby. Aides said weather concerns prompted the move to the convention arena, capacity 15,000 or so.
Obama’s campaign said the president would ask the country to rally around a “real achievable plan that will create jobs, expand opportunity and ensure an economy built to last.”
He added, “The truth is it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over a decade.”
The evening also included a nomination acceptance speech from Vice President Joe Biden, whose appeal to blue-collar voters rivals or even exceeds Obama’s own. Delegates approved his nomination to a new term by acclamation as he and his family watched from VIP seats above the convention floor.
Biden told the convention in his own speech that he had watched as Obama “made one gutsy decision after another” to stop an economic free-fall after they took office in 2009.
Now, he said, “we’re on a mission to move this nation forward — from doubt and downturn to promise and prosperity. ... America has turned the corner.”
With Obama in the hall listening, Biden jabbed at the president’s challenger, as well.
“I found it fascinating last week — when Governor Romney said that as President he’d take a jobs tour. Well with all his support for outsourcing — it’s going to have to be a foreign trip.”
First lady Michelle Obama, popular with the public, was ready to introduce her husband, two nights after she delivered her own speech in the convention’s opening session.
Delegates who packed into their convention hall were serenaded by singer James Taylor and rocked by R&B blues artist Mary J. Blige as they awaited Obama’s speech.
There was no end to the jabs aimed at Romney and the Republicans.
“Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off than four years ago,” said Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who lost the 2004 election in a close contest with President George W. Bush. It was a mocking answer to the Republicans’ repeated question of whether Americans are better off than when Obama took office.
The campaign focus was shifting quickly — to politically sensitive monthly unemployment figures due out Friday morning and the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 in Denver. Wall Street hit a four-year high a few hours before Obama’s speech after the European Central Bank laid out a concrete plan to support the region’s struggling countries.
The economy is by far the dominant issue in the campaign, and the differences between Obama and his challenger could hardly be more pronounced.
Romney wants to extend all tax cuts that are due to expire on Dec. 31 with an additional 20 percent reduction in rates across the board, arguing that job growth would result. He also favors deep cuts in domestic programs ranging from education to parks, repeal of the health care legislation that Obama pushed through Congress and landmark changes in Medicare, the program that provides health care to seniors.
Obama wants to renew the tax cuts except on incomes higher than $250,000, saying that millionaires should contribute to an overall attack on federal deficits. He also criticizes the spending cuts Romney advocates, saying they would fall unfairly on the poor, lower-income college students and others. He argues that Republicans would “end Medicare as we know it” and saddle seniors with ever-rising costs.
After two weeks of back-to-back conventions, the impact on the race remained to be determined.
You’re not going to see big bounces in this election,” said David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser. “For the next 61 days, it’s going to remain tight as a tick.”
Romney wrapped up several days of debate rehearsals with close aides in Vermont and is expected to resume full-time campaigning in the next day or two.
In a brief stop to talk with veterans on Thursday, he defended his decision to omit mention of the war in Afghanistan when he delivered his acceptance speech last week at the Republican National Convention. He noted he had spoken to the American Legion only one day before.
Romney’s campaign released its first new television ad since the convention season began.
It shows Clinton sharply questioning Obama’s credibility on the Iraq War in 2008, saying “Give me a break, this whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” Obama was running against Hillary Rodham Clinton at the time for the Democratic nomination.
It will likely be a week or more before the two campaigns can fully digest post-convention polls and adjust their strategies for the fall.
Based on the volume of campaign appearances to date and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent already on television advertising, the election appears likely to be decided in a small number of battleground states. The list includes New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa, as well as Florida and North Carolina, the states where first Republicans and then Democrats held their conventions. Those states hold 100 electoral votes among them, out of 270 needed to win the White House.
Money has become an ever-present concern for the Democrats, an irony given the overwhelming advantage Obama held over John McCain in the 2008 campaign.
This time, Romney is outpacing him, and independent groups seeking the Republican’s election are pouring tens of millions of dollars into television advertising, far exceeding what Obama’s supporters can afford.