Michelle Obama to take the stage in Charlotte

Looking for bounce in polling numbers, vow to 'lay out pillars' of economic plan


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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- First lady Michelle Obama's highly anticipated speech tonight, at the opening session of the Democratic National Convention, will spark inevitable comparisons with her counterpart, Ann Romney, one of the stars of last week's GOP fest in Tampa, Fla.

Mrs. Obama will take the stage ahead of Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, Texas, the convention's keynote speaker, who may face still tougher comparisons as he follows the role that vaulted President Obama to prominence after the then-Senate candidate from Illinois spoke at the Boston convention in 2004 that nominated Sen. John Kerry for the presidency.

The three days and nights where Mr. Obama and his allies make their case for his second term will bring overall comparisons to the Republican gathering and to past conventions of both parties as analysts of this deadlocked race assess whether either event yielded the kind of polling bounce coveted by the organizers of these multimillion-dollar extravaganzas.

In an opening news conference yesterday, Democratic officials criticized the Tampa event, arguing that beyond its criticisms of the incumbent, it had offered little in terms of policy specifics on where the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan proposed to take the country.

"I think that most Americans who have tuned into the conventions are looking for answers to the questions about how we're going to restore economic security for the middle class," said Ben LaBolt, press secretary for the Obama campaign, in the Labor Day news conference. "The middle class has been stretched thin over the past couple of decades, and so they want to know how we're going to create good-paying, sustainable jobs for the middle class ... and the Republican convention didn't address those questions."

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Last week and throughout the campaign, Republicans have leveled similar criticisms at the incumbent and his campaign, contending that their efforts so far have concentrated more on criticizing Mr. Romney than offering details of what they hope to accomplish in the next four years.

Mr. LaBolt said the speakers, culminating with the president on Thursday night, would present a fuller picture of the administration's goals.

"... [N]ow we need to lay out the pillars of how we're going to restore economic security for the middle class,'' he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. "And that involves paying down the deficit in a balanced way, that involves building an economy from the middle class, invest in things like education, research and development, and infrastructure."

As Pennsylvania's delegates were checking into their rooms, scattered among three hotels in an office park in Charlotte's suburbs, state officials held a news conference to offer their take on the convention goals. Philadelphia's Mayor Michael Nutter, who is scheduled to speak Wednesday night, in the same session that will feature former President Bill Clinton, argued that the GOP speakers had offered, "no tangible ideas to move our country forward.''

"President Obama will do what Mitt Romney didn't do,'' he said in a conference call, predicting that the incumbent would use his speech in Bank of America Stadium to spotlight specific policy details.

Pollsters and political scientists caution that it can take a while for the impact of a convention to sink in with the public, so that measures of the impact of last week's GOP events should be considered still tentative. But there was scant immediate evidence that the GOP convention had much impact at all in a race where polling numbers have been stubbornly resistant to movement.

The Gallup organization reported Monday that their polling in the days since the GOP event found that 40 percent of those surveyed said the convention made them more likely to vote for Mr. Romney; 38 percent less likely; and 21 percent said it had made no difference.

That net positive movement of 2 percentage points was the lowest Gallup had recorded in post-convention polling for either party going back to 1984. Gallup found similarly that Mr. Romney's speech received the lowest positive ratings of any acceptance speech going back to Sen. Bob Dole's address in 1996, with 38 percent calling it positive or good; 21 percent "just OK," 16 percent poor and 26 percent with no opinion.

Mirroring Gallup's national figures, polls of the two convention states showed little movement since the gavel fell in Tampa. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, said that its poll of Florida voters found an almost even three-way split among those who said the convention made them more and less likely to vote Republican, and those who said it made no difference. And PPP's trial heat for Florida remained tied at 48 percent for the president and 47 percent for the challenger, just where it had been in the firm's preceeding survey five weeks ago.

PPP also released a North Carolina survey that showed the races is dead even here, 48 percent to 48 percent, a deadlocked picture that persisted for months in PPP surveys. Another poll, sponsored by Elon University and the Charlotte Observer, had better news for Mr. Romney. It showed the Republican leading the incumbent 47 percent to 43 percent in a state that Mr. Obama carried narrowly four years ago.

While the state waited for the Democratic convention to open, Rep. Ryan, the new GOP vice presidential nominee did his best to steal a measure of the spotlight here. In an appearance in Greenville, he once again mocked the administration's economic record, charging that it made the Carter era "look like the good old days."

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Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562. First Published September 4, 2012 4:00 AM


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