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Democrats hold their convention this week. And yesterday on this program, we heard one version of the challenge President Obama will face. Cokie Roberts said the president will need to talk of more than President Bush's failures and Mitt Romney's tax returns. He will face the challenge of defending his own record and speaking of what he'd do in four more years.
Plenty of Democrats have advice, as we hear from NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: President Obama comes to Charlotte with a lot to do. He has to drive the contrast with Romney, convince voters to stay the course, even though he himself admits he hasn't accomplished all he wanted. And, says Democratic strategist Saul Shorr, the president needs to lay out for voters what he'd do in a second term.
SAUL SHORR: I think they understand his priorities of rebuilding the middle class, investing in education, caring about infrastructure. But I think that's the purpose of the convention, which is to crystallize all of this and lay out the path for the future. And I think we'll all see that pretty clearly.
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LIASSON: At the CarolinaFest street fair yesterday, President Obama's grassroots might not have been as fired up as they were four years ago, but they are ready to go. And most of them are convinced the president emerged relatively unscathed from the lashing he got last week from the Republicans in Tampa.
Brian Moran is the Democratic Party chair in the battleground state of Virginia.
BRIAN MORAN: I think they doubled-down on their conservative, frankly, an extreme position, particularly with respect to women's rights and their platform adoption that would ban abortion, even in the cases of rape. I didn't hear any specifics with respect to an economic plan. So I'm not sure they did anything that would improve their position with respect to winning Virginia.
LIASSON: Iowa is another key battleground state. It launched Barack Obama on his path to the White House five years ago. And Iowans will cast the very first votes in this election. Early voting there begins in three weeks, on September 27th.
Iowa Democratic Chair Sue Dvorsky wants the president to talk about his record proudly.
SUE DVORSKY: He has done some incredible stuff and historic stuff: this Supreme Court, the affordable health care, "don't ask, don't tell," the auto industry. I want him to grab it, embrace it, own it and love it, because we do. And then I want him to remind everybody: So that's what's been done. You want to stop here, or you want to go backward?
LIASSON: Part of Dvorsky's job is to reenergize all those young people on Iowa's college campuses. It's a lot harder this time, as the Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was only too happy to point out last week.
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PAUL RYAN: College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.
DVORSKY: First of all, that was a clever line. But in Iowa, we have about 5 percent unemployment. We are doing better than the national average. That is not a message that resonates so well. What resonates about the Romney-Ryan thing in Iowa is Governor Romney's staffers talking about wind energy being a fad, when 20 percent of the energy in Iowa comes from wind. And the blades are made there. The towers are made there. The computers are made there. People are being trained in community colleges all over to do the maintenance.
LIASSON: Romney wants to end tax credits for wind energy companies. The president wants to keep them.
Then there's another difficult challenge for Mr. Obama: How to talk about an economy that's getting better, but not fast enough to make voters very hopeful. Yesterday, the Democrats struggled a bit with their answer to the basic question for an incumbent: Are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?
Here's how Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley answered it on CBS' "Face the Nation."
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GOVERNOR MARTIN O'MALLEY: No, but that's not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush.
LIASSON: The Romney campaign wasted no time jumping on those comments. Paul Ryan was campaigning yesterday in the Democrats' backyard, on the campus of East Carolina University.
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RYAN: The president can say a lot of things, and he will. But he can't tell you that you're better off.
LIASSON: Later in the day, Vice President Joe Biden tried to get his team back on message.
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VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Folks, let me make something clear, and say it to the press: America is better off today than they left us when they left.
LIASSON: As the Democratic convention begins, the horse race is stuck where it's been for months. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are neck-and-neck with any lead well within the margin of error. Republicans got next to no national post-convention bounce, but there was some good news for the challenger. As the Democrats converged on Charlotte, the latest Elon University poll shows that here in North Carolina - where Barack Obama made history for the Democrats four years ago - Romney is up by four points.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.