By Mike Lillis - 09/03/12 04:45 PM EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday began the Democratic National Convention with a wide-ranging attack on Mitt Romney and the Republicans over everything from Medicare and immigration to women's health and gay rights — themes that will echo loudly this week in the run-up to President Obama's official nomination Thursday.
Speaking before hundreds of enthusiastic supporters at a breakfast for the California delegation, Pelosi sought to frame November's elections as a clear choice between a Democratic Party that fights for the middle class and a Republican Party that would shower benefits on the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
"On the ballot," Pelosi said, "is nothing less than the character of our country."
At times, it was easy to forget that Obama is the headliner of this week's celebration in Charlotte. Christine Pelosi, a Democratic activist, introduced her mother with tales of toughness and spunk she said foreshadowed an eventual rise to House Speaker. And members of the California delegation were given signs recognizing Pelosi's silver anniversary on Capitol Hill — "Celebrating Nancy Pelosi — 25 Years of Leadership," they read — and the waving placards from the standing crowd made her invisible to all but the front of the room as she took the stage.
Still, Pelosi was quick to praise Obama as "an extraordinary president" navigating "a very unusual time," and blasted Republicans for opposing every job bill Obama has proposed, then turning around and blaming the president for doing nothing to address the lingering employment crisis.
"Obstruction is their political philosophy," she said. "They don't believe in a public role."
There were more personal attacks as well. Pelosi said Romney's immigration proposal of "self-deportation" is a cruel approach to the millions of undocumented workers in the country, and she attacked the budget of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — Romney's running mate — as "a transparent trick to end Medicare."
"Their plan," she said, "is hiding in plain sight."
Speaking prior to Pelosi, several other prominent Democrats were similarly aggressive.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) warned of Republican attacks on environmental and financial protections; Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said Republicans "clearly don't believe in science" and "never took biology" — a naked jab at Rep. Todd Akin (Mo.), the Republican Senate candidate who recently made waves for claiming that women's bodies prevent pregnancy during rape; and Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, went after Romney — who made many millions of dollars as the head of Bain Capital — for parking much of his cash in overseas tax havens.
"If you're willing to outsource your own money," Becerra said, "what the heck else are you willing to outsource?"
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement and perhaps the most eminent member of Congress, piled on. He warned the Californians that Republicans want to return the country to an era when freedom is not universal, particularly for women, minorities and gays.
"We're not turning back," Lewis said. "We've come too far."
But the podium Monday clearly belonged to Pelosi, who relished the opportunity to launch the convention's broad themes in front of her home-state delegation.
Pelosi ended on the topic of campaign finance reform, pushing for public financing of campaigns and vowing to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the door to unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions.
"The sad thing, is that we have to raise money to eliminate money from the process," she said. "Because we have to win."
Behind Pelosi, on two enormous projection screens, flashed the alternating logos of Cargill, Oracle, PG&E and other corporate sponsors of the breakfast. She couldn't see them, but they drove her message home.