CHARLOTTE, North Carolina: Bill Clinton, the popular former president who oversaw America's 1990s boom days, nominates Barack Obama for a second White House term Wednesday night, an unusual move by a Democratic Party determined to lift the spirits of voters who have lived through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Obama's challenger, businessman-turned-politician Mitt Romney, still leads among voters as the candidate best qualified to manage the country's still-struggling economic recovery. Clinton has been assigned to narrow that deficit.
Polls find Americans evenly split in what looks to be the closest U.S. presidential election in recent memory. While the multimillionaire Romney has an edge on economic issues, Obama holds a huge lead as the candidate seen as best able to relate to the needs of ordinary Americans.
That was the message First Lady Michelle Obama delivered on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention.
She declared that after nearly four years as president, her husband is still the man who drove a rusty car on their early dates, rescued a coffee table from the trash and knows the struggles of everyday Americans because he lived them.
"I have seen firsthand that being president doesn't change who you are, it reveals who you are," the first lady said to huge cheers Tuesday night. She brought star power and a deeply personal, yet unmistakably political, testimonial.
With thunderstorms on the horizon, the president changed plans to deliver his Thursday night acceptance speech at a 74,000-seat outdoor arena. Instead, he'll accept the nomination indoors at the convention site. It holds 15,000.
Republicans asked whether the venue change was for other reasons.
"Problems filling the seats?" Republican spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement.
Clinton's nominating address Wednesday was expected to mark the healing of a difficult relationship between the former and current presidents who sparred, sometimes sharply, in the 2008 Democratic primaries, when Clinton was supporting his wife Hillary's campaign for the party's nomination.
Romney was formally nominated at the Republican convention last week. His name appeared nowhere in Mrs. Obama's remarks, but there was no mistaking the contrast she was drawing as she declared that "how hard you work matters more than how much you make, that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself."
The first lady took the stage as the most popular figure in this year's presidential campaign. Michelle Obama earns higher favorability ratings than her husband or Romney, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll. And views of Mrs. Obama tilt favorably among independents and women, two focal points in her husband's campaign for re-election.
Speaker after speaker blasted the Republican challenger and his party.
Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and the first Hispanic to deliver the party's keynote address, captured the tone by calling Romney a millionaire "who doesn't get it." Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said, "If Mitt was Santa Claus, he'd fire the reindeer and outsource the elves."
A parade of speakers spoke of Obama's support for abortion rights and gay marriage, for consumer protections enacted under his health care law and for the successful auto industry bailout he pushed through Congress in his first year in office.
But Obama is heavily weighed down by more than 42 months of unemployment surpassing 8 percent, the longest such stretch since the end of World War II. No president since Franklin Roosevelt in the Great Depression has been re-elected with joblessness so high.
Romney is taking a few days off from campaigning, preparing for three debates with Obama that could prove pivotal in the election. But he framed the economic debate against Obama in an email to supporters, writing, "No president in modern history has ever asked to be re-elected with this many Americans out of work. Twenty-three million Americans are struggling for work, and more families wake up in poverty than ever before."
Running mate Paul Ryan said the Democratic convention's first day was "what you expect when you have a president who cannot run on his record."
Ryan credited Bill Clinton for signing legislation aimed at reducing federal budget deficits, while painting Obama as a failure. "What you did not hear is that people are better off than they were four years ago," he said on Fox News.
The two conventions highlight the contrasting visions of government that voters will face in the Nov. 6 election. Romney's Republicans, increasingly guided by the anti-tax tea party movement, want to minimize the role of government, which it sees as an obstacle to enterprise and liberty. Obama's Democrats see government as a potential force for good, helping the downtrodden and providing the education and infrastructure needed to help the country prosper.