CHARLOTTE, N.C. — First lady Michelle Obama lovingly praised her husband Tuesday night in a prime-time Democratic National Convention speech as a devoted husband and caring father at home and a "man we can trust" to revive the nation's weak economy as president, beckoning the country to return him to the White House despite agonizingly slow recovery from recession.
"He reminds me that we are playing a long game here ... and that change is hard, and change is slow and it never happens all at once," she told a nation impatient with slow economic progress and persistently high unemployment of 8.3 percent. "But eventually, we get there, we always do," she said in a speech that roused Democrats packed into the Time Warner Cable Arena and blended scenes from almost 20 years of marriage with the Obamas' time in the White House.
The first lady, given a huge ovation and emotionally describing herself as the "mom in chief," made no mention of Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But those who preceded her to the podium on the first night of the president's convention were scathing.
Her tribute followed a history-making keynote address by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who presented his family's history as a parable of the American Dream: a rise, in just two generations, from impoverishment to elected office.
"America didn't become the land of opportunity by accident," he said, implicitly making President Barack Obama's case for government as a helping hand. He cited the schools and universities and roads and bridges built through the investment of an earlier generation, including his immigrant grandmother.
"Like many of you, I watched last week's Republican convention," Castro said. "And they told a few stories of individual success. We all celebrate individual success. But the question is how do we multiply that success. The answer is President Barack Obama."
Castro then turned to Romney, who was formally installed as his party's nominee last week in Tampa, Fla., an important swing state.
"Republicans tell us that if the most prosperous among us do even better, that somehow the rest of us will too," Castro said. "First they called it 'trickle down.' Then 'supply side.' Now it's 'Romney/Ryan,' or is it 'Ryan/Romney'?" — a reference to Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee and architect of the House GOP's budget plan.
Castro, 37 is the first Latino to deliver a convention keynote speech.
Polls made the race for the White House a tight one, almost certain to be decided in a string of eight to 10 battleground states where neither Obama nor Romney holds a clear advantage.
Delegates cheered as a parade of speakers extolled Obama's support for abortion rights and gay marriage, for consumer protections enacted under his signature health care law, and for the auto industry bailout he won from Congress in his first year in office.
"If Mitt was Santa Claus, he'd fire the reindeer and outsource the elves," declared former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in one biting speech.
Obama was back home in the White House after a campaign appearance in Virginia.
He promised he'd be watching on television when his wife spoke.
"Believe it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage," she told the convention. "We were so young, so in love and so in debt."
The first lady's poll numbers are better than her husband's, and her speech was aimed at building support for him, much as Ann Romney's remarks at last week's Republican National Convention were in service to her husband's presidential ambitions.
Referring to her own children as well as those of others, she said, "If we want to give them that sense of limitless possibility, that belief that here in America there is always something better out there if you are willing to work for it, then we must ... stand together for the man we can trust to keep moving this great country forward, my husband, our president, President Barack Obama."