A delegate shows off her Barack Obama button in the convention hall before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sept. 3, 2012. PHOTO VOA NEWS
A delegate shows off her Barack Obama button in the convention hall before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sept. 3, 2012. PHOTO VOA NEWS

BY Jim Malone – CHARLOTTE — U.S. Democrats open their national nominating convention Tuesday amid polls that continue to show a very close race for the White House between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

There was music on the streets and food on the grill in downtown Charlotte Monday, as Democratic delegates and party activists came together in a kind of giant block party.

West Virginia delegate Nick Casey says it’s like a pep rally before a football match.

“Well, you know it’s an appropriate pep rally,” said Casey. “I go cheer for the University of West Virginia to win their football games and we all get fired up and go out and win, and we all get fired up and get out and win elections!”

Delegate Sharon Stroschein comes from South Dakota, a western state that usually supports Republican presidential candidates. She enjoyed mingling with fellow Democrats from across the country.

“That is the most wonderful part, that we can all express our views and most of the time the guy or gal right beside us is right on [the same point of view],” said Stroschein. “The women we rode with and people on the bus on the way down, we were in sync!”

Democrats will formally open their nominating convention Tuesday with speeches by first lady Michelle Obama and Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Castro will give the convention keynote address, a speech that will lay out the main party themes for the week.

The convention will build to a climax on Thursday when President Obama will give his formal acceptance speech before a large crowd in a football stadium and the millions more watching on television around the country.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is serving as convention chairman. He says the three days of speeches will serve to rally Democrats behind  Obama’s re-election bid.

“We’ll be crystalizing what is at stake in this election, a choice between a candidate who wants to build an economy from the middle [class] out versus one who wants to build an economy from the top down,” said Villaraigosa. “We need a leader who is going to move the country forward, not back.”

Delegates also will hear from former president Bill Clinton, who remains enormously popular within the party, as well as numerous governors, senators, members of Congress and local officials.

Last week, Republican candidate Mitt Romney rallied supporters at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Analyst Norman Ornstein says the president has a similar assignment this week in Charlotte.

“Obama is already known to the American people,” said Ornstein. “What he wants to do at his convention is to find more ways to energize his base and to reinforce the image that he has already begun to create of Romney as somebody whose policies are the [President] George W. Bush policies that got us in the mess in the first place.”

Democrats here say they want to hear more from President Obama about his plans for the economy in his Thursday speech. Polls show Americans find the president more likeable than Mitt Romney, but have more faith in Romney to improve the economy.



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