CHARLOTTE, N.C. President Barack Obama closed his partys convention in Charlotte Thursday night by laying out a case for a second term and casting the election as a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.
Speaking to a national audience and an overflowing uptown arena, the president joined by more than 40 other Democratic speakers offered a spirited defense of his record and a sharp contrast to Republican Mitt Romney on issues, from Medicare to mending the economy.
At times, Obama appeared almost solemn as he acknowledged that the fight back from the financial meltdowns of 2008 has been difficult.
I wont pretend the path Im offering is quick or easy, he said. It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one. And by the way not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictated from Washington.
But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And Im asking you to choose that future.
Casting himself as the friend-in-chief of average workers, the president spoke to thousands of cheering delegates in Time Warner Cable Arena, transformed into a sea of flag- and sign-waving supporters.
Obamas speech capped a night designed to energize his base and reassure voters frustrated by a lingering recession. Four years after promising hope and change, Obama grayer and wearing the burdens of the job acknowledged the latter would be hard.
America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I wont promise that now, he said. While Thursdays spotlight burned brightest on Obama, Charlotte was clearly a co-star as it has been all week as host of one of the biggest events in its history.
A dazzling picture of the citys lit-up skyline was among the images that popped up on a 60-foot screen in the arena. And one speaker after another touted the citys hospitality and its emergence as not only a capital of business but also at least for a week the countrys political center of gravity.
In fact, by Thursday, the citys name had become shorthand for the convention itself. Hello, Charlotte! hollered A-list actress Eva Longoria to the arena crowd. She didnt need the N.C.
Hopes for an even more spectacular finale were literally dampened by rain. The decision to move the presidents speech indoors produced palpable disappointment not to mention organizers dashed dreams of TV images of a packed Bank of America Stadium or a skyline lit by fireworks and a red-white-and-blue Duke Energy Building.
With no time after the venue change to arrange a balloon drop, confetti rained down on the stage and some delegations.
Democrats brought their convention to North Carolina to gain an edge in a battleground state where recent polls show a close race with Romney enjoying a small lead.
Obama told his audience that voters face the clearest choice of any time in a generation. Like others, he invoked middle-class as a sort of mantra.
I refuse to ask middle-class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaires tax cut, he said. I refuse to ask students to pay more for college; or kick children out of Head Start programs, or eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor, elderly, or disabled all so those with the most can pay less.
He mocked the economic prescriptions offered by his opponents.
Ours is a fight to restore the values that built the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known, he said. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.
Instead, he proposed a steady course building on the modest gains of recent months.
This roadmap a real, achievable plan that will create jobs, expand opportunity, and strengthen the middle class will deliver concrete results in the key areas of manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit, Obama said.
Obama made light of his low performance ratings by the public, and brought up the difficulty of being president.
If the critics are right that Ive made all my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading them, he said. And while Im proud of what weve achieved together, Im far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.
Video clips of Obama record
A day after former President Bill Clinton gave an impassioned defense of the last four years, Democrats began taking ownership of the administrations record on issues such as health care, gay marriage and on foreign policy.
In video clips, real people talked about how they benefited from Obamas effort to save the auto industry, from his health care act, his support for same sex marriage and of veterans.
Speakers portrayed Obama as a defender of average Americans and a decisive leader.
Osama bin Laden is dead, Vice President Joe Biden said. And General Motors is alive.
After decades of losing out to Republicans on the issue of whos tougher on national defense, Democrats reached out to male voters and veterans by pressing Obamas record as a commander-in-chief who has presided over the killing of terrorists, toppling of dictators and ending the war in Iraq.
Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago, said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., playing off the GOPs campaign question about the economy.
Kerry, a Vietnam vet and likely candidate for secretary of state in a second Obama administration, also led Thursday nights charge against Romney, casting him as a flip-flopping amateur on foreign policy.
Kerry called Romney and running mate Paul Ryan the most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.
Obama criticized Republican calls for more defense spending, he said he would use savings from winding down two overseas wars.
After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, he said, its time to do some nation-building right here at home.
He also questioned their experience at foreign policy.
So now we face a choice, said Obama. My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that weve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.
After all, you dont call Russia our number one enemy and not al Qaeda unless youre still stuck in a Cold War time warp.
Biden did double-duty by portraying Obama as a courageous and big-hearted decision maker and Romney as a corporate executive who thinks in terms of bottom line .
Stressing his own working-class roots, Biden zeroed in on the presidents record of saving auto jobs and Romneys opposition to the bailout.
He saw it the Bain way, Biden said. He saw it in terms of balance sheets and write-offs, Biden said, referring to Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney used to lead. The Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits, but its not the way to lead your country from the highest office.
Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University, said Obamas speech was not the conventions most exciting or empowering that title went to Clinton, he said.
But Huffmon said the president did succeed in contrasting himself with Romney and the Republicans and by communicating this common thread: Were looking out for you and theyre not.
Loss of stadium disappoints many
The conventions final night had been scheduled for Bank of America Stadium. But with thunderstorms forecast, organizers decided Wednesday to move it to the arena. The switch disappointed the 65,000 people with credentials. The campaign set up a watch party at the Knight Theater in uptown and 5,000 across the country.
While the mood was euphoric on the convention floor, some North Carolinians acknowledged that theyd heard from constituents crushed that they didnt see the president.
Surely they were disappointed, and many of them worked hours (as Obama campaign volunteers) to get those tickets, said Charlottes Pat Cotham, a member of the Democratic National Committee. But people want to be safe.