CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Democrats kick off their Charlotte convention Tuesday convinced their main job is to get voters focused on the stark alternatives between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. To look forward -- even if they cannot recreate the exhilaration of the 2008 campaign of hope and change.
"Heading into Charlotte, the goal of our convention is to bring the choice of this election into sharp focus," Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager, said in a Friday briefing.
"It won't be about rallying the base or leveling petty attacks. It will be about what we need to do as a country to move us forward, not back," she said.
A central theme running through the Republican convention in Tampa, -- where Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, were nominated on Thursday, was President Barack Obama's failure to live up to his promise -- and promises -- of 2008.
Democrats are battling the Romney/Ryan ticket -- as the Romney team is intent on leveraging the disappointment of 2008 voters.
Romney underscored this strategy near the start of his acceptance speech Thursday night.
"Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That choice was not the choice of our party, but Americans always come together after elections," he said.
". . . But today, four years from the excitement of that last election, for the first time, the majority of Americans now doubt that our children will have a better future. It's not what we were promised.
". . . I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division," Romney said.
The Obama team knew going into the 2012 contest that to win, they would have to make the argument that Obama has the better plan for the future.
When Obama and first lady Michelle stumped in the battlegrounds of Ohio and Virginia for the first "official" day of campaigning in May, the signs held up by the crowd had the word "Forward" on the front and "Not Back" on the other side. The only nod to the giddy days of 2008 was the "O" in "Forward" -- which incorporated the classic 2008 Obama logo.
"Next week in Charlotte, we are eager to talk about where we've been and where we're going," said David Axelrod, Obama's senior strategist, in the Friday briefing. "The country's gone through a difficult journey together, but we've made -- but we've made a difference."
The Obama convention will highlight the achievements that they argue have made a difference.
Watch for an emphasis on the auto bailout; bringing troops home from Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan; providing a path for youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own to stay, and improving health-care coverage through Obamacare, the signature health care law that Romney and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal.
At the GOP convention, Romney embraced his record as the leader of Bain Capital -- and a former Bain colleague spoke to the many ways Bain was a good corporate citizen -- but that will hardly dilute the plans Democrats have to keep up their attacks on Romney's tenure at Bain. They're convinced that this is one of their most potent plays.
The Romney convention featured the founder of Staples -- one of Bain's big success stories.
The Obama convention will feature the co-founder of Costco.
In Tampa, the Republicans avoided more trouble over Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who said victims of "legitimate rape" don't get pregnant.
In Charlotte, expect to hear a lot about Akin -- and women's issues. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will lead a tribute to female members of Congress.
The convention covers three nights -- Tuesday through Thursday -- with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden accepting their second nomination at the Bank of America stadium as the finale.
Michelle Obama will be the keynote speaker on Tuesday night and former President Bill Clinton headlines Wednesday night.
The Obama team is repeating the last night of the 2008 convention in Denver -- moving from the Time Warner Cable Arena to a stadium in order to use the event to organize and gather contact data on tens of thousands of people.
Republicans held their convention in the battleground state of Florida and Democrats hope that staging theirs in North Carolina will give them an advantage in keeping that battleground state in the Obama column this year.
Locating in Charlotte has brought Democrats some problems: Union members, a backbone of the Democratic Party, are still steaming that the Democratic convention is being held in a city of non-union hotels -- and in a state that is not union-friendly.
While Obama may well tout his support of gay marriage and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," for the military, North Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity for Republicans to exploit in Charlotte is the state's high unemployment rate: 9.6 percent. Obama's biggest vulnerability going into his re-election is the jobless rate and the slow pace of economic recovery.
When Romney added Ryan to his ticket, the Obama team was pleased -- and remain so -- because it put the spotlight on years of Ryan budget and policy proposals and put Medicare on the front burner. Obama strategists think they do better when the spotlight is on Romney and his plans -- rather than a referendum on Obama.
While Ryan proved a compelling speaker in his debut on the national stage on Wednesday night, Democrats and independent fact-checkers said Ryan was wrong when he implied in his speech that Obama broke a 2008 campaign promise to keep a General Motors plant in Ryan's hometown of Janesville from closing. The plant stopped most of its operations before Obama took office.
Watch for Democrats to not let this one go -- even if the messaging does not come in a formal speech in Charlotte.
Biden, campaigning Friday in Ohio, said Ryan "didn't tell you," the Janesville plant "actually closed when President Bush was in office. He didn't tell you that."
Democrats set up a storefront war room in Tampa in run interference with the GOP convention. Republicans will be running a war-room operation in Charlotte.
On Friday, Republican National Committee Communications Chief Sean Spicer said he expected many Democrats in Charlotte "to resort to the poisonous politics of envy and division, preferring to divide the country rather than to unite it.
"Democrats will continue to blame everyone but themselves -- Europe, the previous administration, 'headwinds,' ATMs, airport kiosks -- without taking one ounce of responsibility for the painful four years over which they have presided," he said. ". . . President Obama will not be able to look America in the eye and say, 'We are better off than we were four years ago.' "
Said Spicer: "What a contrast from the heady days of hope and change."