CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Democrats painted an unremittingly negative portrait of Mitt Romney Wednesday as an out-of-touch elitist, but the second night of their convention was also an exercise in damage control over faith and the party’s commitment to Israel.
Speakers took turns assailing the GOP’s presidential nominee, suggesting his privileged upbringing and considerable wealth made it impossible for him to empathize at a time many Americans are suffering economically.
“We certainly want those at the top to do well,” said New York Sen. Charles 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 rarified as his.”
Running into stiff headwinds resulting from a stubbornly high unemployment rate, President 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.
Former President Bill Clinton was ready to join the effort, delivering 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.”
For his part, Romney laid low a second day, locked away in debate preparation at a retreat in Vermont. But he briefly surfaced in a Fox News interview, saying 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.”
Clinton’s appearance was the highlight of Wednesday night’s program, which did not get off before a few hitches. First, President Obama’s acceptance speech was moved from the Carolina Panthers’ outdoor football stadium to the much-smaller indoor area 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.
In a rare unscripted moment, 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. President 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 fund-raiser 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, planned to continue their appeal to female and Latino voters, their main political targets at this week’s convention.
Introducing Clinton in the prime-time hour will be Elizabeth Warren, who served as a consumer affairs advisor to the White House before launching a U.S. Senate bid in Massachusetts.
Warren thrilled Democrats with a stump speech on the virtues of government spending. When Obama tried the riff, however, suggesting successful private enterprise requires public investment, Republicans seized upon his “you didn’t build that” remark as a statement showing an overweening belief in government.
The Democrats had some competition Wednesday night 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.
Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.