CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In a speech to the Democratic National Convention, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid on Tuesday warned that Americans can't afford to let tea party "extremists and ideologues" take over the Republican Party and elect Mitt Romney to the White House to do their bidding.
On the attack, Reid also slammed the Republican presidential nominee again for not releasing more of his personal income tax returns, asking how can voters be sure Romney's not running for president to benefit himself and his rich friends.
"Today's Republican Party believes in two sets of rules - one for millionaires and billionaires and another for the middle class," Reid said. "And this year, they've nominated the strongest proponent - and clearest beneficiary - of this rigged game: Mitt Romney.
"Never in modern American history has a presidential candidate tried so hard to hide himself from the people he hopes to serve," the Senate majority leader added.
The crowd of about 6,000 delegates inside the Time Warner Cable Arena greeted Reid with chants of "Harry! Harry! Harry!" when he took the stage. And they chanted the Nevada Democrat's name again at the end of his eight-minute speech, which focused on tearing down the tea party and Romney and promoting President Barack Obama as the clear choice for voters on Nov. 6.
"President Obama's strength of character leads him to do the right thing even when it isn't the easy thing," Reid said.
He noted that the president helped save the auto industry, vanquished al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, passed health care reform and took on banks behind a U.S. financial collapse.
"His whole life, there have been so many who told him what he shouldn't or couldn't do. But America has a president who knows what we must do," Reid said of Obama.
In contrast, Romney isn't a man of the people, Reid said.
He said tax returns Romney released showed he paid a lower rate than middle-class families, about 13 percent, during the past couple of years. The financial information also showed he chose "Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island tax shelters" over U.S. banks, Reid said.
"And we can only imagine what new secrets would be revealed if he showed the American people a dozen years of tax returns, like his father did," Reid said, referencing George Romney, who ran for president in 1968.
"Mitt Romney says we should take his word that he paid his fair share," Reid added, playing to the crowd which cheered. "His word? His word? Trust comes from transparency, and Mitt Romney comes up short on both."
The Romney campaign reacted swiftly, noting that Reid, too, has refused to release his own tax returns publicly and has a history of launching unsubstantiated political attacks.
"Harry Reid has once again shown that he is completely detached from reality," said Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman. "Senator Reid's comments tonight are absolutely false and are another attempt to distract from President Obama's abysmal economic record."
In his speech, Reid acknowledged the economy hasn't yet recovered. In Nevada, a battleground state, the unemployment rate is 12 percent, the highest in the nation, which Reid did not mention.
"This nation has been through hard times, but those hard times have hardened our resolve," Reid said. "I'm ready to do the difficult work ahead. But I want to do that work with Barack Obama, and not a tea party ideologue."
Reid said Americans can trust Obama to protect them.
"He is the leader who says we should, we can, we will," Reid said to applause at the mention of the president's name. "He is the leader who doesn't search for the easy path for himself, but takes the right one for us."
Reid ended his address with a pitch to keep Democrats in power in the Senate, too.
"We can move America forward with a strong middle class," Reid said. "We can move America forward with a strong, Democratic majority in the Senate. And together we can move America forward with Barack Obama in the White House."
In 2010, Reid won re-election after a tough battle against Republican Sharron Angle, who was supported by the tea party movement.
Other conservative Republicans made major electoral gains across the country as Obama's popularity fell while the economy struggled. The GOP took majority control of the House and began pushing to cut federal spending, shrink the government and decrease the record U.S. debt.
Reid has fought the tea party-backed conservatives at every turn.
"I've had a front-row seat to watch the tea party take over the Republican Party," Reid said. "For three and a half years, they wouldn't govern. They couldn't lead. And we shouldn't let them take over the Senate and the White House."
With Congress so unpopular, Reid cast the 2012 election as a battle to get rid of Republicans he said have been blocking Obama's attempt to create jobs.
"We must stop the tea party before the United States Senate falls into the hands of extremists and ideologues who leave no room for reason or compromise, who don't recognize common ground even when they're standing on it," Reid said.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.