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Local politics

On stage
Tonight: San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivers the keynote speech, followed by first lady Michelle Obama’s remarks.
Wednesday: Obama and Biden will be nominated for second terms, and former President Bill Clinton takes the stage as star speaker.
Associated Press
President Obama sits down to have breakfast with local autoworkers during his campaign stop in Toledo on Monday.

Are we better off? Debate splits parties

– In an overnight reversal of rhetoric, President Obama’s top allies insisted Monday that Americans are surely better off than four years ago despite a slow economic recovery and joblessness of 8.3 percent. Republicans countered that the president has failed on the fundamental question of this election.

“We’re worse off,” declared Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, speaking on CNN. “There’s half a million more people unemployed today than three or four years ago, not to mention the underemployed, people who aren’t making what they should make.”

Obama, for his part, sought to highlight the economic gains of the past four years by visiting with Toledo autoworkers, underscoring the turnaround of the U.S. auto industry on his watch.

Vice President Biden seconded the message at a Labor Day rally in Detroit and put the blame for the country’s economic woes squarely on the Republicans, declaring, “America is better off today than they left us when they left.”

Democratic supporters went into overdrive to put a glossy sheen on economic progress after offering a more muddled message over the weekend.

“Absolutely,” said Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, speaking on NBC’s “Today” show. “By any measure the country has moved forward over the last four years. It might not be as fast as some people would’ve hoped. The president agrees with that.”

Martin O’Malley, Maryland’s Democratic governor, had answered the same question with a “no” on Sunday before turning the blame to Obama’s Republican predecessor. Appearing Monday on CNN, O’Malley tried a more positive turn of phrase, saying: “We are clearly better off as a country because we’re now creating jobs rather than losing them. But we have not recovered all that we lost in the Bush recession. That’s why we need to continue to move forward” under Obama.

Democrats have plenty of convincing to do.

In the most recent Associated Press-GfK poll, 28 percent said they were better off than four years ago, while 36 percent said they were worse off and 36 percent said they were in about the same financial position.

While the official convention program doesn’t start until tonight, delegations were gathering across Charlotte on Monday for state breakfasts and a festival featuring singer James Taylor.

At a breakfast with the Iowa delegation, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the chair of the convention, told about 60 members of the state’s contingent that Romney and running mate Paul Ryan would pursue massive tax cuts that would benefit only the very wealthy.

“Ronald Reagan would turn in his grave listening to some of these people,” he said. “They’re so far out there.”

In Boulder, Colo., on Sunday, Obama warned a college crowd that “the other side is going to spend more money than we’ve ever seen in our lives, with an avalanche of attack ads and insults and making stuff up, just making stuff up.”

“What they’re counting on is that you get so discouraged by this, that at a certain point you just say, you know what, I’m going to leave it up to somebody else.” Obama did not mention his own side’s arsenal of negative advertising.

The Republican convention behind him, Romney was staying low for a few days, preparing for the October debates as Democratic conventioneers gathered for the opening of their event today.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivers the keynote speech tonight, followed by first lady Michelle Obama’s remarks. Obama and Biden will be nominated for second terms on Wednesday night, when former President Bill Clinton takes the stage as star speaker.