CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Barack Obama urged Americans to give him more time to address the country's needs as he accepted the Democratic nomination Thursday night, arguing his policies helped prevent a deeper economic disaster and framing the battle with Mitt Romney as the clearest choice in a generation.
"You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades," Obama 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."
Obama said the country faces a series of decisions that will "have a huge impact on our lives and our lives for decades to come," and argued Romney and Republicans are ill-prepared for the job.
"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never had," Obama said, trying to reinforce with voters that he set realistic expectations.
The speech was steeped with the optimistic notes he sounded in 2008 and was met with rapturous applause but comes against a reality that the hope and change Obama promised then has not fully materialized and that the tough economy he inherited has wheezed and coughed toward a difficult recovery.
More than 23 million Americans are still unemployed or underemployed. This morning, a jobs report will be released and is expected to continue a pattern of tepid growth.
Obama acknowledged the challenges even as he pressed accomplishments and tried to make an emotional connection. "If you turn away now — if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible — well, change will not happen," he said.
He walked onto stage after being introduced by first lady Michelle Obama and was met with a sea of signs that read "Forward." Delegates waved American flags as he formally accepted the nomination then broke into a chant of "Four more years," a chorus raised throughout the speech.
Obama bemoaned the "avalanche" of money and pettiness in politics before saying that, in the end, Americans faced a critical point in history, appealing to a nation where "everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules — from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, D.C."
The president, who is 51 and has grayed since taking office, asked voters to rally around an agenda — a sort of New Deal update. He said he would rebuild the economy, including creating more manufacturing jobs, cutting oil imports and reducing the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade. He called for spending money no longer being used for war to further prop up the economy and for cutting the growth of college tuition by half over the next decade.
"That's what we can do in the next four years, and that's why I'm running for a second term as president of the United States."
Obama, however, left out much of the specifics of those ideas, even as he criticized Romney for being vague last week during the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Obama's ideas weren't totally new, and his delivery at times was flat.
The night lacked some of the theatrical flourishes of the 2008 convention in Denver, where Obama stood among towering Greek-style columns and accepted the nomination before 84,000 people and fireworks.
Thousands in Charlotte were denied a seat because the threat of severe rain forced organizers to move the final day's activities from the nearby football stadium to Time Warner Cable Arena.
There was no balloon drop because of the late change of venue, but the arena coursed with energy throughout the three days, featuring speeches by Mrs. Obama on Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday and finally, President Obama, who took the stage after a procession of speakers that included elected officials, actors (Scarlett Johansson, Kerry Washington, Eva Longoria) and music acts (Mary J. Blige, the Foo Fighters).
The auto bailout, one of the successes of Obama's first term, was a theme of the day and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm whipped the crowd into a frenzy by ticking off the jobs it saved in various states. "In your car and on your ballot, the 'D' is for drive forward, and the 'R' is for reverse," she said.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts gave a forceful speech on foreign policy, a topic Romney and Republicans mostly avoided in Tampa. Obama kept his promises to end the war in Iraq, he said, and wind down Afghanistan.
"Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago," Kerry said, a line punctuated with thunderous applause.
Marrying those two themes, Vice President Joe Biden declared, "Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive."
Acting as a character witness for Obama, Biden spoke of his and the president's modest upbringings, saying they understood the worries of everyday people.
"Folks, we know we have more work to do. We know we're not there yet. But not a day has gone by in the last four years when I haven't been grateful that Barack Obama is our president. Because he has always had the courage to make the tough decision."
Inserting Romney's business background into the night, Biden said he thought Romney relied on that when he argued against the auto bailout. "I just don't think he understood what saving the automobile industry meant to all of America. I think he saw it the Bain way. Balance sheets. Write-offs. Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profit. But it's not the way to lead your country from its highest office."
Lowering his voice in a somber tone, Biden paid tribute to the 6,473 who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 49,746 wounded before bringing the crowd to a crescendo. "The journey of hope is not yet finished, but we are on our way. The cause of change is not fully accomplished, but we are on our way. So I say to you tonight, with absolute confidence, America's best days are ahead of us, and, yes, we are on our way."
The Romney campaign quickly issued a news release saying Biden had doubled down on Obama's "out of touch rhetoric, arguing that, despite chronic unemployment and a shrinking middle class, 'America has turned the corner.' "
One of the most powerful moments of the night came when former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords walked out, assisted by her friend, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. Giffords was shot in a 2011 assassination attempt. She walked off stage to shouts of "Gabby, Gabby, Gabby."
The enthusiasm and diversity was a vivid contrast to the Republican convention last week, but that's a misleading indicator of the campaign. The RealClearPolitics average of national polls Thursday showed Obama and Romney in a tie: 46.7 percent to 46.7 percent.
The bounce from a convention can be small and ephemeral. Romney did not get an immediate one from Tampa, polls showed. White House senior adviser David Plouffe told ABC's Good Morning America he expects the race to remain "tight as a tick" until Election Day.
Obama only mentioned Romney once by name but criticized him thoroughly, sometimes mockingly. "You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."
He repeatedly sought to connect with voters who have gone though the struggles of the past four years, saying being president taught him what it was like to send people to war and to see people lose their jobs.
"And while I'm proud of what we've achieved together, I'm 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.'
"But as I stand here tonight, I have never been more hopeful about America. Not because I think I have all the answers. Not because I'm naïve about the magnitude of our challenges. I'm hopeful because of you."
Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Alex Leary can be reached at [email protected]