Democrats at DNC paint a stark choice for voters

Women's rights advocate Sandra Fluke speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
(Tannen Maury / European Pressphoto Agency)
<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below.</i>

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Elizabeth Warren, the consumer crusader and liberal heroine, joined the parade bashing Mitt Romney at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, saying the GOP nominee would undermine the middle class by slashing the social safety net.

In fiery rhetoric drafted for delivery in a prime-time address, the Massachusetts Senate hopeful said Romney “wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires … but he and [running mate] Paul Ryan would pulverize financial reform, voucher-ize Medicare and vaporize ‘Obamacare’.”

“President Obama believes in a level playing field,” Warren said, in one of many testimonials to the incumbent. “He believes in a country where nobody gets a free ride or a golden parachute.”

Running into stiff headwinds resulting from a stubbornly high unemployment rate, Obama and his fellow Democrats have sought to turn the November election from a referendum on the past 3½ years to a choice between the incumbent and his Republican rival, a former Massachusetts governor.


PHOTOS: Protests of the DNC

One after another, speakers sought Wednesday night to paint that choice in the starkest terms.

Former President Clinton was prepared to join the effort, following Warren with a nominating speech that offered his critical take on the GOP’s gathering last week in Florida. “In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple,” Clinton said in remarks prepared for delivery. He described it this way: “We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in charge.”

Speakers praised Obama’s record: passing healthcare reform, fighting to lower student loan costs, supporting veterans, bailing out the U.S. auto industry. They said things had gotten better under his watch — the country is no longer hemorrhaging jobs, they noted, even if the rate of recovery is disappointing. But the great weight of effort seemed intended to cast Romney in the least flattering light.

There were aggrieved stories from workers who said they had suffered when Romney’s Bain Capital took over their companies. “I don’t think Mitt Romney is a bad man,” said Randy Johnson, a former factory worker. “What I fault him for is making money without a moral compass. I fault him for putting profits ahead of people like me.”

Speakers asserted Romney’s privileged upbringing and considerable wealth meant he could not feel for those suffering economically.

“We certainly want those at the top to do well,” said New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer. “But if you base your entire presidency and your entire economic platform on helping them do even better, you’re missing what makes the economy tick, because not everyone has been as fortunate as Mitt Romney. You cannot base your whole approach on a life experience as rarefied as his.”

One after another, women invoked Romney’s opposition to legal abortion and proposal to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood, saying it would turn back the clock on their rights.

“We’ve come so far, we’ve come so far, so why are we having to fight in 2012 against politicians who want to end access to birth control?” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. “It’s like we woke up in a bad episode of ‘Mad Men.’”

For his part, Romney lay low a second day, locked away in debate preparation at a retreat in Vermont. But he briefly surfaced in a Fox News interview, saying that granting Obama a second term would be “a big mistake.”

“I don’t think the American people want to see this president get another four years,” Romney said. “These last four years have not been good for the middle class in America…. This has not been a good time for the American people.”

PHOTOS: Scenes from the DNC

Clinton’s appearance was the highlight of Wednesday night’s program, which did not get off before a few hitches. First, Obama’s acceptance speech was moved from the Carolina Panthers’ outdoor football stadium to the much-smaller convention arena because of concerns about the weather.

Then Democrats had to clean up a mess arising from Tuesday’s adoption of their platform, a broad statement of the party’s principles.

Opening the day’s session, Democratic leaders bulldozed through an amendment putting the word “God” back into the document and restating the party’s support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Both had been omitted from the original draft, and Republicans had seized on the absence to question both the Democrats’ godliness and their commitment to the key U.S. ally. Obama, who landed Wednesday in the convention city, personally intervened to make the change, according to Democrats familiar with his concerns.

It took three tries, however, and a disputed decision by the convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to decide the change had the required support of two-thirds of the delegates. To many listeners, the voice vote seemed at least evenly divided and many on the floor expressed anger afterward.

With the amendments passed, Democrats immediately swung into the evening program, which again was heavily scripted with women and Latino speakers, in an appeal to those important constituencies.

Clinton was on hand to formally place Obama’s name in nomination and was expected to say why he deserves four more years in the White House despite the lackluster economy.

More than 20 million jobs were created during Clinton’s eight years in office and for many his administration is shrouded in a rosy reverence, despite impeachment and other scandals.

Even at the height of those controversies, Democrats never lost their affection for Clinton, the only member of the party since Franklin Roosevelt to win two terms in the White House. He planned to formally place Obama’s name in nomination, something no ex-president has done before.

(The result of the roll call vote, officially installing Obama as the party’s November standard-bearer, is scheduled as Wednesday’s last order of business and, even though the proceedings were expected to push past midnight, the outcome is not in doubt.)

The two men were adversaries four years ago, when Obama dueled Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a fiercely fought contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The hard feelings lingered long after, even though Clinton spoke favorably at Obama’s nominating convention in Denver.

Since then, the two have forged a much closer alliance — no one would mistake it for personal friendship — as Mrs. Clinton joined the Obama administration as secretary of State. The ex-president has become an important fundraiser and Obama advocate.

A TV spot featuring Clinton’s endorsement has been in heavy rotation in North Carolina and was frequently seen during last week’s GOP convention in Florida; both are battleground states with a large number of the more conservative, economically hard-pressed Democrats for whom Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, has a special affinity.

Democrats, meantime, continued their appeal to female and Latino voters, their main political targets at this week’s convention.

Warren helped create the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in response to the near-financial meltdown of 2009 and was recruited by Democrats to run against GOP Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts. She has struggled in that race, however, and Wednesday night’s appearance was an important opportunity to invigorate her campaign.

Warren and her fellow Democrats had some competition, though, from the National Football League, which opened its season with a matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. NBC opted to carry the game rather than the convention.

But it was not just pro football that intruded on the Democratic gathering.

Party officials announced Wednesday that Obama’s acceptance speech, the Thursday night convention finale, would move from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor arena that hosted the first two nights of the convention.

With intermittent rain drenching Charlotte since Sunday, party officials had been closely watching weather forecasts. On Tuesday, they insisted the event would go on “rain or shine.” But the possibility of lightning forced them to reconsider “to ensure the safety and security of our delegates and convention guests,” Democratic Convention Committee Chief Executive Steve Kerrigan said in a statement Wednesday morning.

Republicans suggested Democrats moved the speech because they couldn’t fill the stadium. But the Obama campaign denied that, saying they had credentialed 65,000 people and had a waiting list of 19,000 more who had been turned away.

Times staff writers Seema Mehta and Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.

[For the Record, 8:40 a.m. PST Sept. 6: An earlier version of this post said Cecile Richards was the president of Planned Parenthood. Actually, she’s the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.]

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