By JULIE PACE, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — When the Democratic Party's national convention opens this week, President Barack Obama's target audience won't be in the crowd. It will be the small sliver of undecided voters in battleground states who will be critical to the outcome of what the polls show is a tight race with two months to go.
Obama's campaign will turn to technology to get some of those voters engaged in the convention. The campaign will stream the entire event online, incorporate voter comments into the feed, and have convention attendees interact electronically with those watching on the Internet and mobile devices.
It's an attempt to recapture the Obama team's insurgent, grassroots appeal from 2008, when the campaign set new standards for using technology in politics. The high-tech engagement also helps the campaign capture data on voters that can be used for registration drives and get out the vote efforts.
Targeting Hispanics, the convention will be streamed online simultaneously in Spanish. Obama is hoping his sizeable advantage over Republican rival Mitt Romney with Hispanics will help him win key battleground states in the West, as well as Florida and Virginia.
Republicans also streamed much of their convention on YouTube, though the feed was not interactive.
The move to online streaming comes as television networks cut back on their convention coverage. TV viewership was down during last week's Republican convention; about 30 million people watched Romney's acceptance speech, compared to 40 million who saw Sen. John McCain accept the GOP nomination in 2008.
Starting Tuesday, a parade of high-profile speakers will stand on a blue-carpeted stage in Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena to vouch for Obama's economic agenda, which his team says is focused on the middle class: ending tax cuts for the rich and reducing the debt, while spending more on education, energy and infrastructure.
Several voters — called "American Heroes" by Obama's team — also will speak at and appear in videos at the convention, putting a human face on Obama's program.
The Democratic National Convention starts less than a week after Republicans gathered in Tampa, Fla., to nominate Romney as the party's presidential candidate. Democrats hope that by holding their convention second, Obama can emerge with momentum on his side as the race for the White House bounds into its final stretch.
Obama will largely be responsible for generating that momentum. He will close the convention Thursday night with a speech in an outdoor football stadium, just as he did in 2008. Mindful of the comparisons to four years ago, Obama's campaign is scrambling to ensure that the 74,000-seat stadium is filled to capacity. The largest crowd Obama has drawn during the 2012 campaign is about 14,000 people, far less than the jaw-dropping crowds he attracted in the 2008 campaign.
Aides say Obama won't ignore the economic woes that have defined his four years in the White House. But they say he plans to focus largely on the future, and why he believes his policies will succeed in a second term.
Obama isn't expected to outline any new policy proposals. Instead, he plans to make the case for continuing what he has started. And he is expected to double down on agenda items, such as immigration and tax reforms, that gained little traction during his four years in office.
"When the convention is over, folks with be left with a clear road map of where he thinks America needs to go," said Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager. "And it will be clear what his focus will be in an Obama second term."
Working against Obama: the nation's 8.3 percent unemployment rate, sluggish economic growth and fears the economy could slip back into a recession.
There's also a general malaise. An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this month showed 60 percent of registered voters say the country is heading in the wrong direction, while just 35 percent say it is heading in the right direction.
The convention opens Tuesday with first lady Michelle Obama, whose popularity far surpasses her husband's, as a featured speaker. San Antonio, Texas, Mayor Julian Castro also is slated for that night. He will be the first Hispanic to deliver the Democratic convention's keynote address. Their roles on the convention's opening night are part of Democrats' efforts to shore up support among women and Hispanics, two crucial voting blocs where Obama holds an advantage over Romney.
Mrs. Obama is expected to make the case that Obama is the best candidate to advocate on behalf of the middle class because he has experienced their struggles himself.
Many voters already have heard Mrs. Obama's stories about her husband being raised by a single mother and his grandparents or having struggled to pay off student loans.
But she is emphasizing them again in this campaign in hopes of drawing a contrast with Romney's privileged upbringing.
Polls show voters think Obama understands the economic issues that are important to them better than Romney, even though the Republican has an edge on who voters believe is better suited to manage the economy.
Former President Bill Clinton, who is emerging as one of the campaign's most effective surrogates, will headline the convention Wednesday and formally nominate Obama. He hopes to remind voters of the flush economy he presided over and make the case that Obama's policies will lead to similar results.
Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry will address the large stadium crowd Thursday night before Obama speaks.
Kerry, seen as a potential second-term secretary of state under Obama, will try to capitalize on the Democratic Party's rare advantage on national security issues. He is expected to trumpet Obama's decision to order the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the president's plan to end the Afghanistan war, a sharp contrast to Republicans who rarely mentioned the war during their convention or the tens of thousands of troops still engaged in combat.
Obama's young daughters start school in Washington next week and are not expected to have a formal role at the gathering. But they could come to Charlotte Thursday night for their father's acceptance speech.
Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC.
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