By Russell Berman - 08/31/12 04:40 PM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. – The balloons have dropped in Tampa, and now it’s the Democrats’ turn.
After three days of Republican denunciations of President Obama, Democrats will have their chance to respond next week in Charlotte, N.C., and party leaders are signaling Obama and his allies will be aggressive in attacking back.
Yet Democratic officials acknowledge their challenge will be to go beyond returning fire with fire, combining attacks on Romney with an affirmative case for Obama.
“It has to be more,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), a close Obama ally and the second-ranking Democrat in the upper chamber.
“I think the point that we have made about a positive message and positive agenda has to lead. But clearly we have to clear the air when it comes to a lot of the misstatements that have been made this week.”
Republicans in Tampa have assailed just about every aspect of Obama’s presidency, characterizing him as a big-spending liberal whose policies have made a weak economy worse.
Democrats have gone after Romney for the better part of a year, and they condemned Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in unusually harsh terms after his vice presidential acceptance speech Wednesday night.
“There’s no delicate way to say this. Last night, Paul Ryan lied. Repeatedly, knowingly and brazenly,” Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said here in a press conference Thursday morning.
She later told The Hill that while Democrats would criticize Romney plenty in Charlotte, they would also trumpet Obama’s record: “What he’s done for the past three and a half years to strengthen the middle class, to save this country from economic collapse and start putting the building blocks in place for an economy built to last.”
The Democratic convention, she said, is “not going to be a week of contrast.”
Rather, “it’s going to be a week of laying out the choice and describing who the president is and where he comes from. He’s grounded in the middle class because he’s lived that experience.”
Democrats have said that in addition to party bigwigs like Obama, Vice President Biden and former President Clinton, voters would also hear directly from ordinary Americans who have benefited from Obama’s policies.
“The difference between Charlotte and Tampa will be obvious next week,” Durbin told reporters. “The motto for the Republican convention is simple: Just remember we’re all in this alone. The motto for the Democrats is much different. We’re all in this together, and working together with the president, we can move this country forward.”
Another challenge for Obama will be to present a fresh message to an electorate that is familiar not only with his charismatic public persona but also with the explanations that he has given for the struggling economy for more than three years.
It’s a point on which Republicans have hammered the president.
“These past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House,” Ryan said in his speech Wednesday. “What’s missing is leadership in the White House. And the story that Barack Obama does tell, forever shifting blame to the last administration, is getting old.”
The stage in Charlotte is likely to resemble what viewers saw in Denver four years ago. The first two days of the Democratic convention will take place in an arena similar to ones that have become traditional for party conventions, while Obama will deliver his nomination acceptance speech in the open-air Bank of America football stadium.
Democrats could benefit from more viewers in the week after Labor Day as people return from late August vacations. But while Tropical Storm Isaac delayed the Republican convention, Democrats will have to compete with the opening of the NFL season. NBC, for example, is preempting the addresses by Clinton and Biden on Wednesday to broadcast the season opener between the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.