Four years after promising change, Democrats shift focus in fight for White House

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak
Mayor of Minneapolis R.T. Rybak speaks during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sept. 4, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C. The DNC that will run through Sept. 7, will nominate U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Today, Democrats gather again for the second day of their national convention.

Last night, first lady Michelle Obama was the focal point of the evening at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak also addressed the delegates, but before TV's prime time.

Rybak and other Democrats are focusing less on President Barack Obama's promise four years ago to change the country and more on his contrast to his 2012 Republican rival, Mitt Romney.

Rybak's speech ran seven minutes long, but it focused on some of the themes that the Obama campaign has been using for months: that the president took office under difficult circumstances and is still working to set things straight.

"After the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, he took over,: Rybak said. "The auto industry was on the brink of collapse. He faced two wars. Bin Laden was at large and so much more. Barack Obama got to work. Our president delivered a recovery act and that's one of the reasons we have had 29 straight months of private sector job growth."

Like many other speakers, Rybak said Obama understands the plight of ordinary Americans, which he said Romney and other Republicans don't understand.

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"President Obama has earned every gray hair on his head fighting for the middle class and every American," Rybak said. "Now it's time to stand up America and fight for this man as hard as he's fought for you."

Michelle Obama
First Lady Michelle Obama waves after addressing the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday, Sept. 3, 2012.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

In recent months, Rybak has served as both a defender of President Obama's record and an attack dog against the Romney-Ryan ticket. Unlike four years ago, Democrats are not spending as much time laying out Obama's vision for changing the country. They instead are focusing on Romney's record and what they call the roadblocks the Republicans in Congress have put in Obama's way.

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin spoke to Minnesota delegates on Tuesday morning about that issue.

"It's led us to a point where nothing is getting done because the Republicans have refused to get anything done. They don't want to work with Democrats. They don't want to work across the aisle," Martin said. "In spite of that, we know the president has done a lot in this country and has a vision to get this country back on track and moving forward."

Some Minnesota delegates said they are still as enthusiastic about Obama as they were four years ago. They praised him for enacting the health care law, ending the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and for signing the "equal pay for equal work" bill into law.

Delegate Aaron Lee Wittnebel of Lake Park said he expects a harder fight for Democrats this year.

"It was a lot easier four years ago. There was a lot of hype simply because of the primary between Hillary [Clinton] and Barack," Wittnebel said. "You had this competition of doing something first and changing history. That was something that people really wanted to be a part of. Now we can continue that history going forward or like the president said, 'are you going to give them the keys to the car that they crashed the first time around?' "

Delegate Andrea Whitaker, who attends the University of Minnesota, said she and her friends are still excited about President Obama. But she acknowledges Democrats are working harder to turn out voters who in 2008 didn't need much convincing.

"I think a lot of the trendiness and the media spin that was put on President Obama's campaign in 2008 isn't as existent as it was back then now," Whitaker said. "But I'm hopeful that students will turn out. I know there have been, at least at the University of Minnesota, a huge presence of students working hard."

Rybak is also working hard. He's vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. Later today he will hold a conference call for reporters to criticize Republican running-mate Paul Ryan, who is campaigning in Utah against Obama.