CHARLOTTE, N.C. — First lady Michelle Obama pleaded with voters Tuesday to reward her husband with re-election, telling delegates at the Democrats’ convention that President Obama comes from humble beginnings but was able to reach the White House by taking advantage of the same kind of social safety net he defends on the campaign trail.
Democrats convened their nominating convention with a mix of sharp barbs against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his personal wealth, and a defense of Mr. Obama’s first-term record on everything from health care to gay rights.
Seeking to unify Democrats and win over independents with the inspirational story that powered Mr. Obama to an historic election in 2008, Mrs. Obama told delegates her husband is still pushing for the vision voters embraced four years ago.
She said also the president’s push for government programs is personal because they are the foundation he himself used to climb to the White House.
“He believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you — you reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed,” she said, her pointedly personal appeal winning chants of “Four more years” from the frenetic crowd.
Democrats sought to turn the election into a choice between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, rather than a referendum on the president — which would be bad news for the incumbent, who polls show many voters are wary of returning to Washington.
“We’re making progress, and now we need to make a choice,” San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said in the convention’s keynote address, delivered later Tuesday night. “It’s a choice between a country where the middle class pays more, so that millionaires can pay less — or a country where everybody pays their fair share.”
Mr. Castro becomes the first Latino to deliver a keynote address — a move aimed at highlighting the diversity of the Democratic Party as Mr. Obama tries to rally a disparate coalition of black and Hispanic voters, women and gay-rights supporters that can give him a majority.
The convention begins as polls show the race between Mr. Obama and Republican opponent Mitt Romney to be a tight affair. The Real Clear Politics average of polls gives Mr. Obama a lead of just a tenth of a percent — though the president also holds razor-thin leads in most battleground states.
Most important, Mr. Romney did not get a boost from his convention last week, according to the latest round of polls.
Just as Ann Romney, wife of Mr. Romney, did at Republicans’ convention last week, Mrs. Obama humanized her husband, pointing to him as a devoted husband and a good father who shared the same struggles as other Americans when they were a newlywed couple.
She talked about Mr. Obama picking her up for dates in a car that had a rusted-out bottom, and about their upbringings in families of limited means.
“We were so young, so in love, and so in debt,” she said — but she put a political point on the message, saying that’s why Mr. Obama supports increasing student aid.
“In the end, for Barack, these issues aren’t political, they’re personal,” she said.
The election is shaping up as a clash between dramatically different views of government power and the social safety net.