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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - First lady Michelle Obama was slated to kick off 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 a session that focused largely on bashing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Michelle Obama was set to accentuate the positive.
In remarks prepared for delivery, the first lady never mentioned Romney, focusing instead on portraying President Obama as a man who has worked hard to promote the middle class and who deserves re-election.
In a highly personal address, the first lady recalled the experiences of the last four years as she traveled 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."
She planned to say that she and her husband learned from the examples set by their loved ones. "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 would be protected under a second Obama administration and threatened under Romney.
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 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 the president'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.
But what produced some of the evening's most robust cheers 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 alleged "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 the auto bailout.
"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,'?" Emanuel added.
That message contrasted sharply with what Michelle Obama set out to do.
"Tonight I am looking forward to reminding people across the country about the qualities and the experiences that makes my husband the man and the president that he is today," the first lady said in a conference call with about two dozen female columnists.
"And I've had an up-close look at just how hard Barack has worked to move this country forward, to rescue our economy and rebuild our middle class and give our kids the opportunities they deserve," she said on the conference call, which was reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.
"So I am really excited to talk with everyone about why it is so important that we give him the chance to finish the job that we elected him to do four years ago," she added.
The first lady's remarks served as the highlight of an opening session that continually emphasized the Democratic 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 to 42 percent.
Indeed, 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. "We as voters want to keep these reforms or watch them all be repealed," she said.
The first lady's remarks came at the end of the first of the convention's three days, inspiring a lively crowd that seemed to hang on to the words of almost every speaker. For six hours, they cheered, changed and sang. Students and firefighters traded space at the podium with the politicians in an effort to counter the themes of the Republican convention.
Tonight's convention session features a speech by former President Bill Clinton.

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