Arguing her husband "brought our economy from the brink of collapse," first lady Michelle Obama used a boisterous opening day of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday to make the case for a second term, touting accomplishments of the past four years while appealing to a nation's determination.
"When the challenges we face start to seem overwhelming, or even impossible, let us never forget that doing the impossible is the history of this nation," she said. "It's who we are as Americans. It's how this country was built."
Mrs. Obama came on stage to the song Signed, Sealed, Delivered, wearing a sleeveless pink dress as the crowd roared, "Four more years! Four more years!"
Her speech capped a day that provided a decided contrast in energy and diversity to the Republican National Convention, held last week in Tampa and delayed a day due to Hurricane Isaac, struggling to build momentum. At times, the crowd inside Time Warner Cable Arena here was so loud it drowned out speakers.
"When it comes to the health of our families, Barack refused to listen to all those folks who told him to leave health reform for another day, another president," Mrs. Obama said. "He didn't care whether it was the easy thing to do politically — that's not how he was raised — he cared that it was the right thing to do."
Not once did she mention Mitt Romney — leaving the attacks to a litany of speakers who assailed the Republican nominee from every front. Instead she focused on a narrative of the Obamas as regular people, the son and daughter of hard-working people who sacrificed for their children and instilled in them lessons of dignity and selflessness.
"I didn't think it was possible, but today, I love my husband even more than I did four years ago, even more than I did 23 years ago, when we first met," she said. "I love that he's never forgotten how he started. I love that we can trust Barack to do what he says he's going to do, even when it's hard — especially when it's hard."
President Obama's problem is not likability but he has struggled to recapture the passion that surrounded him in 2008 as the economy spiraled downward and continues to haunt millions of Americans. The goal of the convention, then, is to rally the Democratic base and convince independents to stick with him.
Much of the night was about aggressively highlighting his record, from efforts to help rescue the auto industry to the health care law and facing down the economy.
People waved signs that read opportunity and oportunidad as Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, delivered the keynote address, becoming the first Hispanic to do so.
"And to me, to my generation, and for all the generations that will come after us, our choice is clear. Our choice is a man who's always chosen us," he said. "A man who already is our president — Barack Obama."
There was a poignant story from a family who said their daughter was saved with "Obamacare" and a pitch from Lilly Ledbetter, a woman from Alabama who inspired an equal pay measure that was the first bill Obama signed into law.
"Women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar men make," she said, before lashing out at Romney. "Maybe 23 cents doesn't sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island investments and an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars. But Gov. Romney, when we lose 23 cents every hour, every day, every paycheck, every job, over our entire lives, what we lose can't just be measured in dollars."
While Romney retreated to Vermont to work on debate preparation, his campaign on Tuesday continued its aggressive post-convention theme, asking if Americans are better off now than four years ago.
"The president can say a lot of things, and he will, but he can't tell you that you're better off," Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, said while campaigning in Greenville, N.C.
As the convention got under way, the national debt reached the $16 trillion mark, leading to staccato bursts of email statements from Republican officials across the country.
Rebuttals flowed in Charlotte.
"It is true we're better off. The stock market is better. We've created all these new jobs when jobs were in a free fall. We saved the auto industry. Those are real things," said state Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach.
He said Democrats have not been forceful enough in promoting their work on the economy: "We shouldn't run from that, we should run to it. Run to health care, not away from it."
The convention script followed suit, with speaker after speaker highlighting the health care overhaul, the auto bailout, investments in higher education and job creation, and Obama's support of same-sex marriage.
"Barack Obama has also lived up to his responsibilities as commander-in-chief, ending the war in Iraq, refocusing on Afghanistan and eradicating terrorist leaders including (Osama) bin Laden," said Tammy Duckworth, a congressional candidate from Illinois who walked out on stage with her prosthetic legs exposed, casualties from service in the Iraq war.
There were few references to the stubbornly high unemployment rate — which has hit minorities and the young disproportionately — growing personal debt and the still-lingering mortgage crisis.
Nor were Obama's failed promises noted, including his pledge to overhaul immigration in his first term, which has disappointed Hispanics, and to close Guantanamo Bay, which has angered liberals.
Instead Democrats rallied around their policies, appealed to better days and emphasized the party's big tent.
"My family's story isn't special," Castro said, stepping into a speaking slot that Obama used in 2004 as a national breakout moment. "What's special is the America that makes our story possible. Ours is a nation like no other, a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation . . . no matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward."
Unlike Mrs. Obama, Castro used his prime-time speech in the attack dog role, mocking Romney and trying to attach him to the austere budget proposal crafted by Ryan.
"Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn't get it," Castro asserted. "A few months ago he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice. 'Start a business,' he said. But how? 'Borrow money if you have to from your parents,' he told them. Gee — why didn't I think of that? . . .
"Mitt Romney says, 'No.' When it comes to respecting women's rights, Mitt Romney says, 'No.' When it comes to letting people marry whomever they love, Mitt Romney says, 'No.' When it comes to expanding access to good health care, Mitt Romney says, 'No.'
"Actually, Mitt Romney said, 'Yes,' and now he says, 'No.' Gov. Romney has undergone an extreme makeover, and it ain't pretty. So here's what we're going to say to Mitt Romney. We're going to say, 'No.' "
Castro's speech punctuated a day designed to show the diversity of the party. Half of the nearly 6,000 delegates — the most ever sent to a Democratic convention — are women and 27 percent are African-Americans.
"We are a convention that really looks like America," said Alice Germond, secretary of the Democratic National Committee.
If there is anyone more popular among the crowd in Charlotte than Mrs. Obama it is former President Bill Clinton, who will give the prime-time speech tonight. The president and ex-president have had a mixed relationship, dating back to the 2008 Democratic campaign where Obama defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But now it's Clinton's job to impart some of his common appeal — the "I feel your pain" moment — while doubling down on Mrs. Obama's argument that her husband needs another term.
Times staff writers Adam C. Smith and Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.