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Party heavyweights, celebrities and N.C. dignitaries join DNC finale

By Andrew Dunn, David Scott
adunn@charlotteobserver.com

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena, President Barack Obama accepted his party's nomination for the presidency Thursday, capping the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

As the crowd chanted "Four more years," Obama thanked his wife Michelle, two daughters and Vice-President Joe Biden before accepting the nomination.

Obama quickly drew a distinction between himself and Republican challenger Mitt Romney: "On every issue, the choice you face won't be just between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice betwen two different paths for America."

In a speech before Obama took the stage, Biden made his case for the president's re-election.

"Not a day has agone by that I haven't been grateful he's president," said Biden. "Because he's not afraid to make the tough decision.

"The choice is to move forward and boldly forward, to finish the job and re-elect Barack Obama."

Obama's speech was the culmination of the convention's final day. The night also included speeches by ormer Republican Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, actress Eva Longoria, Caroline Kennedy and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Singer James Taylor, who grew up in Chapel Hill, sang, as did the rock band Foo Fighters.

Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden accepted his renomination with a speech that lauded Americans for their work to emerge from the economic crisis and recession, and said President Barack Obama is the one needed to complete the job.

“In the face of the deepest economic crisis in our lifetimes -- this nation proved itself," he said. "We're as worthy as any generation that has gone before us."

Biden described Obama as a "gutsy" president who made the right decisions when a wrong one could have sent the country spiraling further downward. He also said that he learned through working with the president with a deep empathy with the struggles of Americans, from health care to jobs.

"A job is about a lot more than a paycheck," Biden said. "It's about your dignity. It's about respect. It's about your place in the community. It's about your ability to look your child in the eye and say 'Honey, it's going to be OK,' and being able to know that it's true."

The son of an auto worker, Biden contrasted Obama's bailout of the industry with Republican candidate Mitt Romney's opposition to the plan, and used it as a way to describe the two men's point of view.

"I think he saw it the Bain way. I think he saw it in terms of balance sheets and write-offs," Biden said. "The Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits, but its not the way to lead your country from the highest office."

Sen. John Kerry

Eight years after accepting the presidential nomination himself, Sen. John Kerry was one of the few speakers of the convention to focus on foreign policy.

In a bitingly sarcastic prime-time speech, he said President Barack Obama had restored America's standing in the world, fulfilled promises to end the war in Iraq and defended Israel. Kerry said Mitt Romney doesn't know much about foreign policy and listens to "neocon" advisers.

"This is not the time to outsource the job of commander-in-chief," he said.

"Despite what you heard in Tampa, an exceptional country does care about the rise of the oceans and the future of the planet. That is a responsibility from the Scriptures, and that too is a responsibility of the leader of the free world."

Kerry called Romney an "extreme and expedient" candidate and said he has taken numerous positions on what should be done in Afghanistan.

"Talk about being for it before you were against it," Kerry said. "Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself."

Kerry is viewed as a potential successor to Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

Charlie Crist

Former Republican Florida governor Charlie Crist -- now an independent -- told delegates that his former party had drifted too far to the right for him to stay in, and is now at the mercy of "bullies" that are impossible to work with.

"There are common sense solutions within our reach if we have leaders who are willing and enthusiastic to find common ground. No political party has a monopoly on that kind of leadership," Crist said. "But as a former lifelong Republican, it pains me to tell you that today's Republicans and their standard-bearers, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, just aren't up to the task."

He invoked Ronald Reagan, saying he would be too moderate for today's Republican Party.

Crist was viewed as a key get for the Democratic convention and was cheered lustily at the end of his speech. He dropped his Republican affiliation for a race against Marco Rubio for the Senate seat Rubio ultimately won.

Crist also was briefly a college quarterback at Wake Forest.

Eva Longoria

Before she was a star in "Desperate Housewives," actress Eva Longoria changed engine oil and flipped burgers at Wendy's to help pay her way through college.

"Like a lot of you, I did whatever it took and, four years later, I got my degree. More importantly, I got a key to American opportunity," she said. "We're lucky our president understands the value of American opportunity, because he's lived it! And he's fighting to help others achieve it."

Longoria is now a co-chairwoman of President Obama's campaign. She played up Obama's work with small businesses, and defended his attempts to make the wealthy to pay more in taxes.

"The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy's flipping burgers—she needed a tax break," she said. "But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not."

Caroline Kennedy

Capping a run of speakers who aimed at young people, Caroline Kennedy tried to made the case that the youth enthusiasm that helped propel Barack Obama in 2008 should continue to this year's campaign.

"Back then, I was inspired by the promise of Barack Obama's presidency," she said. "Today, I'm inspired by his record."

Making frequent reference to her family, she talked about Obama's commitment to social and economic justice, support for women's issues and the auto industry.

"Those are the ideals my father and my uncles fought for. Those are the ideals I believe in," she said. "And this election is about whether we will advance those ideals or let them be swept away "

Gabrielle Giffords inspires the crowd

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords slowly made her way to the center of the stage Thursday to lead the convention hall in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Unsteady on her feet and in her speech, Giffords received by far the loudest ovation of the evening before blowing kisses to the crowd chanting "Gabby, Gabby, Gabby!"

Giffords is continuing to recover from a gunman's attack in January 2011 that killed six people and wounded a dozen others in Tucson, Ariz.

Actresses court young voters

Adding a dash of Hollywood to the convention, actresses Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington talked about getting more people involved in politics.

Johansson said that in 2008, less than half of eligible young voters cast ballots, even as President Obama rode a current of support from young people.

"Young America, why are we only speaking with half our voice when so many issues at stake here directly affect us?" Johansson said. "Earlier this week, Chelsea Clinton reminded us that we are the generation whose voices haven't been heard. Vote so that your voice is heard."

Some political observers have said that a lack of enthusiasm among voters could hurt Obama's chances in November. Washington told the viewing public that this election is too important to let that happen.

"The other side wants to take away our voice and render us invisible," she said. "But we are not invisible."

Actress Eva Longoria, also an Obama campaign co-chair, is expected to speak later this evening.

Wasserman Schultz speaks as a cancer survivor

In an emotional speech, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz gave a personal defense of President Obama's signature healthcare law Thursday, describing her battle with breast cancer.

"I know what it's like to sit in that waiting room wondering how many more anniversaries you'll get with your husband or how many more birthdays you'll celebrate with your kids," she said. "I don't care how strong a woman you are, that moment is terrifying. And in America, no one should have to go through it without health insurance. No family should go broke just because a mom gets sick."

As a representative of South Florida, Schultz also focused on senior citizens and President Obama's plans for Medicare, saying the Republican Party would damage the program.

"Congressman Ryan says that he wants Medicare to be around for his grandkids," she said. "Well, if that's the case, he had better vote for Barack Obama."

Addressing voter identification

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia took on the Republican-led voter identification initiatives in a number of states, comparing them to the efforts made to keep blacks from voting in the civil rights era.

"I've seen this before. I've lived this before," he said. "Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote."

Lewis told a story of first coming to Charlotte in 1961 as one of the original "freedom riders." One member tried to get a shoeshine in the city, and was arrested. Traveling on to Rock Hill, he and his seatmate were beaten for entering a white waiting room, Lewis said.

Since then, the country has changed, Lewis said, and showed its promise by electing Barack Obama.

"Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back?" Lewis asked "Or do you want to keep America moving forward?"

Harvey Gantt remembers Susan Burgess

In a brief speech, Former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt remembered Susan Burgess, the former mayor pro tem who laid the groundwork for bringing the Democratic National Convention to the city before dying of cancer in 2010.

"She fought for what she believed in, and she fought her own battle with cancer," Gantt said. "Sadly, she did not get the chance to see this convention convene. But I know she'd be very proud, and she is with us in spirit."

Gantt introduce a video in memorial of a number of Democratic leaders who have died in the past four years, including Elizabeth Edwards, Robert Byrd, Andy Griffith and Ted Kennedy.

Duke CEO Rogers addresses delegates

North Carolina politicians and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers kicked off Thursday night's convention activities as rain-soaked delegates still streamed into Time Warner Cable Arena.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and U.S. Reps. G.K Butterfield, David Price and Mel Watt painted President Barack Obama as a defender of the middle class and forward thinker.

With the longest speech, Hagan described the state's leaders that developed UNC Chapel Hill -- the country's first public university -- and Research Triangle Park. She also mentioned the four black men who sat-in at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro.

"Our country needs that same forward-looking leadership now more than ever," she said. "The solutions of yesterday won't get us where we need to go."

Dalton, who is running for governor against former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, also lumped his opponent in with the national ticket.

"This election is a choice between two directions -- forward and back," he said. "That's the choice before this country and this state."

Rogers did not get political in his speech, instead welcoming the convention to Charlotte and talkign about an "all of the above" energy policy that includes renewable energy and conservation.

"I'm not here tonight as a Democrat or a Republican, a policy pundit or an energy CEO," he said. "I'm here simply as a grandfather."

Rogers frequently uses the grandfather line in public appearances.

"Decades from now, when our grandchildren look back at the decisions we made as a country, will they think that we did the right thing?" Rogers said. "We want their answer to be, 'Yes.'"

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