Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012 | 2 a.m.
As Nevada Democrats convene in Charlotte, N.C., for their national convention this week, they face a challenge perhaps more daunting than the rivalry over who should be their nominee, a predicament that ensnared their Republican counterparts in Tampa.
Democrats must build the case — and sell it to voters in a state most ravaged by the recession — for why President Barack Obama should be granted another four years to lead the country.
The Democratic National Convention follows a week of Republican speeches aimed at harpooning both Obama’s record as president and his ability to win people over through the power of his words.
Indeed, GOP nominee Mitt Romney posed perhaps the single most important question to voters that Democrats will have to answer this week: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
Erin Bilbray-Kohn, a delegate from Las Vegas, answered candidly when that question was broached to her.
“I feel that I am about the same as I was four years ago,” she said. “But I do think things have leveled out and things are continuing to slowly get better.”
Her answer goes to the heart of what Democrats have been arguing for nearly Obama’s entire term in office.
“It took us a while to get into this financial mess,” Bilbray-Kohn said. “The president has us on the right track to getting us out of it, and it would be a really bad mistake if we just change course at this point when we’re so close to recovery.”
The Obama administration has some data to back up its claim that things are slowly recovering. The national unemployment rate is 8.2 percent — not where the president had promised it would be, but lower than the 10 percent it hit in the months after he took office.
It also points to “29 straight months of job growth” nationally.
In Nevada, however, the economic picture remains bleak — unemployment is hovering at 12 percent, and 60 percent of home mortgages are at least 25 percent underwater.
That creates an added challenge for Nevada Democrats trying to carry Obama’s message. They will have to convince Nevadans weary of economic hardship to remain patient and to trust just a little bit longer that Obama’s policies will eventually lead to a full recovery.
“The public needs to give him a little bit more time,” said Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who is also a national delegate. “They need to do that not just because he needs more time, but because they see the country moving in the right direction. He’s managed to get it headed in the right direction.”
In an interview with the Sun, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz pointed to the Obama administration’s tax breaks for those paying college tuition and for small business owners and congratulated him for “making sure student loan interest rates didn’t double.”
She also defended the administration’s approach to the housing crisis, addressing criticism that Obama wasn’t aggressive enough in stopping the downward slide that has trapped so many Nevadans in underwater mortgages.
“I think it has worked to keep millions of people in their homes,” she said. “And it’s making sure to get the banks to work with people. I think the president’s neighborhood stabilization program has definitely worked.
“The answer is definitely not to just leave it to the private market.”
But Democrats won’t just focus on selling Obama’s record, they’ll also take aim at Republican economic policies.
Wasserman-Schultz accused Romney of seeking to return to the policies that “crashed the economy in the first place” and favoring policies that would leave the middle class to “collect some of the crumbs that might fall from the richest.”
“Barack Obama believes in giving everyone a fair shot and a fair shake and if you do that in America, you’ll have the opportunity to be successful,” she said. “We shouldn’t just have policies focused on the people who are already doing well. We need to make sure everyone has a chance to succeed.”
Republicans spent the last week accusing Obama of seeking to punish the rich and inciting class warfare to, as Sen. Marco Rubio put it, “divide and conquer” voters.
But the Obama campaign denies it will use the convention to react to any of the accusations lobbed by Republicans during theirs.
“We are going to stick to our plans,” Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said.
“The goal of our convention is to bring the choice people have into sharp focus,” she said. “It won’t be to rally the base or level sharp attacks.”
Senior strategist David Axelrod accused the Republican Party of simply “talking to itself” with “buzz words” that appeal to its base during its convention.
Democrats will take a different approach, Axelrod said.
“The message we want to hammer home is that this president is committed by experience, by belief and whole-heartedly to rebuilding an economy in which every person who worked hard can get ahead, in which the middle class is secure, and in which Americans can have confidence that their children can look forward to something even more in the future,” he said. “That is what we’re going to convey. That is the reality.”