First Lady Michelle Obama kicks off the Democratic convention on Tuesday with husband Barack under fire from Republicans for admitting he has done an "incomplete" job on the economy.
It is nine weeks exactly before Americans decide if the country's first black president should be re-elected or if his Republican rival, multi-millionaire businessman Mitt Romney, should get to turf him out after just one term.
National polls put the rivals neck-and-neck, but a closer inspection of swing states reveals that Romney has his work cut out, especially as the bounce he was hoping for from last week's Republican convention has failed to materialize.
At the Republican gathering in Tampa, Florida, Ann Romney was the linchpin of a coordinated attempt to humanize Mitt, portraying him as a soft family man and deconstructing Democratic stereotypes of him as a ruthless corporate raider.
When she takes center stage at 10:30 pm (0330 GMT Wednesday) in a packed arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, it will be Michelle Obama's turn to take the harder edges off her husband, a man sometimes seen as professorial, even aloof.
"She'll speak about the values and experience that drive him. She'll give a personal and passionate speech," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told journalists aboard Air Force One.
"She'll talk about the president's deep connection to the struggles middle-class families are facing, because he's lived it, and why he's made the choices he's made to strengthen the middle class and move our nation forward."
At a campaign event in the key battleground state of Virginia, the president referred to his wife as the "star of the Obama family" and warned their daughters Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, that he might get teary-eyed tonight.
"I'm going to be at home and I'm going to be watching it with our girls, and I am going to try not to let them see their daddy cry. Because when Michelle starts talking, I start getting all misty," he said.
Michelle, who is more popular than the president, is expected to woo women voters as part of the Obama campaign's drive to eke out any advantage in a race marked by too-close-to-call polls and a dearth of undecided voters.
Her speech comes four years after she vowed -- before a stadium full of delegates in Denver, Colorado -- that Barack Obama, despite his "funny name," would make an "extraordinary president."
Today, with economic malaise casting serious doubt on that claim, Democrats face a glut of Republican charges that although his election was historic and rightly celebrated his presidency has been a bust.
Obama was asked to grade his performance on the economy during an interview with a Colorado news program broadcast on Monday and unwittingly provided an opening for his opponents.
"You know, I would say 'incomplete'" he said, before laying out steps he had taken to save the auto industry, make college more affordable and to invest in clean energy and research.
Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan jumped, taking Obama to task as he exclaimed with incredulity on CBS News: "Four years into a presidency and it's incomplete?"
Obama's comments followed another stumble by his team at the weekend, when top officials labored over the answer to a seemingly straightforward question: "Are Americans better off now than they were four years ago?"
In a sign of how close the Obama campaign believes the race remains, the president continued a four-day "Road to Charlotte" tour, taking in territory that will decide November's election.
Following trips to battlegrounds Iowa and Colorado and a tour of storm-hit New Orleans, Obama campaigned Tuesday in Virginia, another state that could prove vital to his hopes come November.
The president flies to Charlotte on Wednesday on the eve of his nomination acceptance speech, which serves as an opportunity to make the case to the American people that although times are hard he still deserves another term.
The graying 51-year-old president will seek to rekindle some 2008 magic on Thursday as he leaves the confines of a convention hall for a huge outdoor football stadium packed with 70,000 people.
Obama will defend his crusade for change, highlighting his historic health reforms and his orders to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military, to withdraw troops from Iraq, to decimate Al-Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden.
He will call for higher taxes on the rich and for safeguarding health care for the elderly, hoping to come off as more sympathetic to the middle class than Romney, the uber-wealthy 65-year-old former Massachusetts governor.
Bill Clinton, a hugely popular former Democratic president remembered for steering a more prosperous age, lends his star power to proceedings on Wednesday with a speech making the economic argument for four more Obama years.