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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - First lady Michelle Obama ended the opening session of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night with a rousing defense of her husband's performance, making the case for four more years to allow him to "finish the job."
At the end of an evening program focused largely on bashing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Michelle Obama was resolved to accentuate the positive.
She never mentioned Romney, focusing instead on portraying President Obama as a man of character who has worked hard to promote the middle class and who deserves re-election.
In a highly personal address and in a video that recalled her modest Chicago upbringing, the first lady recalled the experiences of the last four years traveling the country as her husband's top representative, calling the Americans she has met "the very best of the American spirit."
"Like so many American families, our families weren't asking for much. They didn't begrudge anyone else's success or care that others had much more than they did. . In fact, they admired it," she said. "They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that, even if you don't start out with much, if you work hard and do what you're supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids."
While thousands of delegates displayed signs reading "We Love Michelle" and cheered her every sentence, she said that she and her husband learned from the examples set by their own families.
"At the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, as president, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are," she said. "So when it comes to rebuilding our economy, Barack is thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother."
She then cited her husband's accomplishments, mentioning that the administration took steps to ensure equal pay for equal work for women, increasing student aid, and especially health care reform.
"He did it because he believes that here in America, our grandparents should be able to afford their medicine . our kids should be able to see a doctor when they're sick, . and no one in this country should ever go broke because of an accident or illness," she said. "And he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care. . That's what my husband stands for."
Indeed, women who spoke from the podium throughout the Tuesday session emphasized reproductive freedom as a distinctly Democratic ideal that will be protected under a second Obama administration and threatened under Romney.
The crowd's most enthusiastic response for any woman addressing the convention besides the first lady may have been reserved for Lily Ledbetter, whose experience as a woman who received less pay for the same job performed by a man inspired the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
She pointed out that women still make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
"Maybe 23 cents doesn't sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island investments and an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars," she said to cheers filling the Time Warner Cable Arena. "But Governor Romney, when we lose 23 cents every hour, every day, every paycheck, every job, over our entire lives, what we lose can't just be measured in dollars."
Several Democratic House members and candidates introduced by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stressed reproductive rights, while former President Jimmy Carter, in a video, praised President Obama for instituting health care reform he sought during his administration.
"It was a dream overdue when I called for it 36 years ago," Carter said, adding that Obama's foreign policy has resulted in a restoration of "trust and good will" around the world.
Another video introduced by Joseph P. Kennedy III, a candidate for Congress, extolled the memory of the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and produced some of the evening's most robust cheers. It featured clips of the 1994 senatorial debate between Kennedy and Romney, in which Romney espoused several opinions on abortion and health care for which he is now criticized for "flip-flops."
Democrats in Charlotte on Tuesday made the same outward appeal to Hispanics as the Republicans last week in Tampa, Fla.
The convention's keynote address came from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who outlined his rise from humble roots and emphasized Obama's Democratic Party as the way for others to make their rise, too.
Romney's Republican Party offers a much different vision, he said.
"We know that in our free-market economy some will prosper more than others. What we don't accept is the idea that some folks won't even get a chance," Castro said. "And the thing is, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are perfectly comfortable with that America. In fact, that's exactly what they're promising us."
The proposed Romney-Ryan budget would cut Medicare, transportation funding and education programs, and that would have a devastating impact, Castro said.
"It doesn't just pummel the middle class - it dismantles it," he said of the GOP budget plan.
Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel extolled the auto industry bailout and noted that Romney opposed it.
"Now one thing I know with absolute certainty, having served two great presidents, is that in the next four years, an unforeseen crisis, challenge or conflict is going to seize the country," Emanuel said. "Whose leadership, whose judgment, whose values do you want in the White House when that crisis lands like a thud in the Oval Office?
"A person who said in four words 'Let Detroit go bankrupt' or a president who had another four words: 'Not on my watch.'?"
That message contrasted sharply with what Michelle Obama set out to do. Her remarks served as the highlight of a session that continually emphasized the party's devotion to the "middle class," while portraying the Republican Party as too ideological for the average voter. They were seen as a pitch to women voters, who the latest Gallup poll reports favors the president over Romney by a tally of 50 percent to 42 percent.
The first lady emphasized such gains under the Obama administration as his health care reform plan, which she said has made it easier for working families and could be endangered under Romney. Her remarks came at the end of the first day of the three-day convention, which featured a lively, engaged, even raucous crowd that seemed to hang on to the words of almost every speaker.
For six hours, they cheered, chanted and sang. Students and firefighters traded space at the podium with the politicians as the party set out to counter the themes of the GOP convention.
Tonight's session of the Democratic convention features a speech by former President Bill Clinton.

email: jzremski@buffnews.com and rmccarthy@buffnews.com