(The Root) — There may be some rain, the Charlotte, N.C., forecast predicts, but so far no hurricane warnings. Republicans had their turn in Tampa, Fla. At their convention, presidential candidate Mitt Romney at times seemed like a supporting player in his own show, with bombast from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, bite from vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan and a host of prominent women and minorities to present the face of a more inclusive Grand Old Party — onstage, anyway.
Romney inspired passion with more of a personal story than policy details in his closing-night speech, and his team also beat back the Ron Paul faithful to present a united front, though that whole Clint Eastwood rant didn't turn out so well.
Now it's time for Democrats and Charlotte to take the spotlight. President Barack Obama delivers his big speech on Sept. 6 at Bank of America Stadium, and while the theme may not be 2008's hope and change, the tone promises to be far more optimistic than Tampa's doom and gloom, inside the convention center and out. Instead of the Republican slogan "We built it," you'll hear plenty about how "He saved it" — meaning the economy, after eight years of Bush-Cheney.
Getting the Democratic Message Out
First on the agenda will be setting the record straight. Despite being called out by fact-checkers for a series of televised ads that falsely accuse the Obama administration of "gutting" welfare reform, the GOP is pressing that message, an attempt, many believe, to accuse the first African-American president of doling out checks to lazy freeloaders at a time when many are suffering.
Bill Clinton, the president who signed the welfare-to-work legislation, has repudiated the GOP's message, though Republicans have given him cameo appearances in the attack ads. Expect a wholehearted Obama endorsement when Clinton takes the convention stage Wednesday night. Though the two men have had a sometimes contentious relationship — a clash of political egos — Clinton probably can't resist a chance to play savior in his home region and set the stage for a Hillary Clinton run, if she chooses, in 2016.
There will also be talk about Medicare, as well as the GOP's claim that Obama is cutting health benefits to seniors to fund his Affordable Care Act. In reality, the president's plan trims expenses by reducing payments to insurance companies and hospitals. In Charlotte, Ryan's budget plan and its proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system that would let seniors tangle with insurance companies no doubt will be dissected and denounced.
Women will play an especially prominent role at the Democratic convention, especially since Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's words about "legitimate rape" gave Democrats the opening and ammunition to again talk about a Republican "war on women." Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student maligned by Rush Limbaugh, has a speaking spot. So do Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Caroline Kennedy, among many other elected officials and policymakers. On Tuesday popular first lady Michelle Obama will set the opening-night scene, and Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren will introduce Clinton on Wednesday.
With the Dems anxious to show a deep bench of young talent, the keynote speech will be given by 37-year-old San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, the first Latino keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention. Castro, the son of a single mother, earned degrees from Stanford and Harvard. Sound similar to the background of a certain 2004 convention keynote speaker who made the most of his moment?
In a switch from recent years, voters give President Obama the edge in foreign policy, something convention speaker and former candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts will be sure to point out. The killing of Osama bin Laden will surely be mentioned more than it was in Tampa.
Charlotte in the Spotlight
The city of Charlotte will also play a starring role in the weeklong show. The city has been buzzing in the weeks before the mix of 35,000 delegates, media, politicians and celebrities begin to arrive. Visitors will be greeted by host Anthony Foxx, Charlotte's second African-American mayor, and an African-American police chief, Rodney Monroe, coordinating security with federal officials.
A convention is a magnet for demonstrations and marches — including those by the Coalition to March on Wall Street South and by undocumented immigrants and their allies, who have traveled across the country by bus. In a recent conversation, Foxx said that the city could strike a balance: "Our job is to do the best we can to preserve and protect their right and balance it with the need to make sure not only that the demonstrators are safe but the entire community is."
With the big event being held in a museum district that is exhibiting special shows for the occasion, the convention weary can take a break and be challenged by "Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial," from the self-taught Alabama artist, at the Mint Museum Uptown; or Tavis Smiley's "America I Am: The African American Imprint," at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. The man that museum is named for is Charlotte's history-making first African-American mayor, still a presence as an architect and community leader who, along with Foxx, will be speaking at the convention.
Democratic-convention organizers point out ways that, in contrast to the GOP convention, the public can engage. A Labor Day Carolina Fest in the streets of uptown (what downtown is called in this upbeat New South city) is expected to draw crowds despite worries about traffic and security. Scheduled entertainment includes Janelle Monáe and James Taylor, who earlier this year joined the first lady at a Charlotte fundraiser. The public can also sign up to attend caucus and council meetings.
This past Friday, Time Warner Cable Arena was opened to the public for a first look. Schoolchildren were given priority to take in the patriotically themed light show with projections of the Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty and Lincoln Memorial — making the case, perhaps, that the president who presided over a Civil War about slavery might feel more at home with today's Democrats than with his own party. Not surprisingly, the swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado are among those with the best views of the stage.
In Tampa, Republicans claimed the American dream. In Charlotte, Democrats will offer their version, an inclusive one that acknowledges that the federal government — whose laws and courts struck down states' rights restrictions — plays a part in America's progress.
Campaign volunteers had a chance to earn tickets to the president's stadium speech — and an offer of community credentials for anyone interested in attending the last night of the convention was, if anything, too successful. Thousands showed up and waited in line for hours, with some disappointed when the supply ran out. Stephen Kerrigan, CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, said that they're hoping to reallocate tickets to take care of those who went away empty-handed.
The upside to the confusion is the enthusiasm, which Democrats hope will propel them to a November victory in North Carolina, a state Obama won by just over 14,000 votes in 2008. "This is a state that is passionate about the president, about his beliefs and his vision for the country, and I think we are going to continue to work very, very hard," Kerrigan said, not just in the days leading up to and during the convention, "but in the next 60 or so after that to make sure the state leans blue."
The party and Obama would like to count on that, as well as on North Carolina's 15 electoral votes in what promises to be a close race.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to the Washington Post "She the People" blog, The Root, Fox News Charlotte and Creative Loafing. She has worked at the New York Times and Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.
Mary C. Curtis is a Roll Call columnist and contributor to NPR and NBCBLK. She has worked at the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Charlotte Observer and Politics Daily and as a contributor to the Washington Post. She is a senior facilitator for the OpEd Project at Cornell and Yale universities. Follow her on Twitter.