Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Democrats kick off convention as first lady rallies the troops

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DEMOCRATS have kicked off their national convention in North Carolina, desperate to convince Americans that U.S. President Barack Obama deserves a second term -- and to vilify the economic proposals of Mitt Romney, his Republican rival for the White House.

First lady Michelle Obama was set to take centre stage on Tuesday night as what one campaign official described as a "character witness" for her husband. She provided clues to the themes of her address in a radio interview in Charlotte, N.C., earlier in the day.

"The truth is that he has grown so much, but in terms of his core character and value, that has not been changed at all," she said.

"I am going to remind people about the values that drive my husband to do what he has done and what he is going to do for the next four years."

The president, meantime, said he'd be at the White House, getting "all misty" while watching her speech with the couple's two girls.

"Whatever I say here today, it's going to be at best a distant second to the speech you will hear tonight from the star of the Obama family," he said as he campaigned in Virginia.

"This is just like a relay, and you start off with the fastest person."

The three-day event in Charlotte, N.C., includes an address Wednesday by former president Bill Clinton, and will culminate Thursday with the president officially accepting the party's nomination at a downtown football field.

For Michelle Obama, her appearance represents a personal triumph of sorts. The last time she spoke at the party's convention, she was under fire, assailed by conservatives as unpatriotic for remarks she'd made months earlier about her husband's political fortunes.

"For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change," she said during primary season in comments that set off a right-wing firestorm.

It's been a transformative uphill climb ever since, said Myra Gutin, a first lady expert and communications professor at Rider University in New Jersey.

Indeed, after an almost entirely gaffe-free four years in the White House, the Chicago-born lawyer's popularity now far surpasses that of her husband. When Gallup last pitted the couple against one another in May, Michelle Obama had a 66 per cent approval rating while her husband was at 52 per cent.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 5, 2012 A9

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