CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Democratic National Convention began here Tuesday evening with a promotional video proclaiming, "Government is the only thing that we all belong to."
The introductory video shown to the thousands gathered here at the Time Warner Cable Arena wasted no time outlining the party's faith in government. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had a quick response to that philosophy. "We don't belong to the government, the government belongs to us," Romney tweeted.
Democrats are spending this week making their case in North Carolina, a state Barack Obama won in 2008, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win here since Jimmy Carter in 1976. But Obama is facing an uphill battle to repeat his 14,000-vote North Carolina win this November. In a state enduring 9.6 percent unemployment and a sitting Democratic governor, Bev Perdue, who is not seeking reelection, 20 percent of North Carolina Democrats selected "no preference" instead of Obama in the state's May primary.
As the Democrats cheered six hours of speakers on the arena's stage Tuesday, convention goers shopping at the surrounding souvenir shops did not find any buttons or T-shirts touting Obama's 2008 mantra of hope and change. Instead for $25 they could buy red T-shirts printed with the words "Obama Y'all," a nod to the convention's southern locale.
The hope and change message are not the only things missing from this year's Democratic gathering. The party's platform, released Tuesday, supports abortion, the legalization of same-sex "marriage," and higher taxes for the wealthy. But, unlike the Democrat's 2008 platform, the 2012 version of the party's beliefs omits any reference to God. Four years ago, the party mentioned God once, calling on government to give citizens the "chance to make the most of their God-given potential," But that has been scrubbed this year.
In addition, Democrats removed several statements backing Israel that were a part of the 2008 platform. The 2012 platform removes any support for Jerusalem as Israel's capital, no longer insists that Palestinian refuges be settled inside a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel, and fails to condemn Hamas for its attacks.
The changes, which the Republican Jewish Coalition called the "most radically unsupportive statement of policy on Israel by a major U.S. party since its founding," are expected to have major implications for the Jewish vote.
"The Democratic Party is signaling a radical shift in its orientation away from Israel," said Norm Coleman, a former Republican senator from Minnesota who is chairman of the Romney Jewish Coalition.
But Democrats on Tuesday did not focus on America's relationship with Israel. Instead they devoted the week's first session to courting Hispanic and women voters.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the first Hispanic to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention, told the story of his Mexican grandmother's immigration to the United States in 1920.
"Ours is a nation like no other," he said. "A place where great journeys can be made in a single generation. No matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward."
A platoon of female lawmakers led by Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also took the stage, slamming Republicans and trying to capitalize on the lead among women voters that Democrats currently hold in the polls.
"When President Obama made healthcare a right, not a privilege, for all Americans, it was one of the proudest moments of my life," said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York. "Now women are beginning to get the preventive services, including birth control, that they deserve."
The speakers on Tuesday night preferred the term "women's health" instead of more directly mentioning the party's support for abortion. This is not surprising in the face of surveys revealing that more Americans now describe themselves as pro-life than pro-abortion.
While Democrats coalesced around pro-abortion issues here on stage, a group of pro-life Democrats gathered earlier in the day at an off-site hotel. These pro-life Democrats, fast becoming an extinct species in Congress, said that they made an unsuccessful attempt to have a statement of acceptance of pro-life Democrats included in this year's Democratic platform.
Instead the platform reads: "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion."
One of those pro-life Democrats making an appearance in Charlotte on Tuesday, former Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, played a key role in the passage of Obama's healthcare law. At the time Stupak agreed to vote for the measure if Obama signed an executive order that Stupak claimed would prevent federal funding of abortion.
But on Tuesday Stupak admitted that the new healthcare mandate forcing religious groups to provide coverage for abortion violates that executive order.
"To tell you the truth, I am perplexed and disappointed having negotiated the executive order with the president." Stupak said. "I think it's illegal. I believe it has contraceptive services, it also has drugs that induce [abortions]."
Back on the main stage, speakers like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did not back away from the controversial healthcare law.
"For us Democrats, Obamacare is a badge of honor," Sebelius said.
The Democrat's first night focus on women voters culminated with an address by first lady Michelle Obama.
Like Ann Romney the previous week at the GOP convention in Tampa, the first lady did not launch a direct attack against her husband's opponent. Instead, her assignment, also similar to her Republican counterpart's goal last week, was to humanize her husband.
While Ann Romney last week in Tampa described an ironing board dinner table and a door propped up on sawhorses as a desk, Michelle Obama tried to depict a regular guy persona for the president on Tuesday night by talking about her husband's rusted-out car and a prized coffee table found in a dumpster.
"Barack knows the American Dream because he's lived it," said the first lady, who is increasing her weekly schedule of campaign events. "He wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like or who we love."