CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Accepting his party's nomination for re-election, President Obama on Thursday said voters face the most momentous election of a generation and told them they must choose between locking in his vision of a government that works to boost the most vulnerable, or side with Republicans in rolling back his agenda.
Pleading for his return to the White House, Mr. Obama said he has tried to live up to his promises from the campaign trail four years ago and that he has made progress, even if the results haven't shown. He challenged delegates to the Democratic National Convention and a television audience nationwide to stick with him for another four years.
"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth," he said. "And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades."
On the final night of the convention, Democrats left few appeals untapped. They repeatedly reminded voters that Mr. Obama oversaw the operation that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who eluded American forces under President George W. Bush's administration.
In an emotional moment, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who was shot in 2011 while conducting an outdoor town hall in Tucson, Ariz., led the convention in the Pledge of Allegiance, drawing chants of "Gabby" from the crowd.
Taking aim at Romney
But with the uplifting moments came the most persistent savaging of an opposing candidate in recent political convention history, as Democrat after Democrat took the podium to hammer Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts said Mr. Romney "lacks judgment and vision" and called him "out of touch at home, out of his depth abroad and out of the mainstream."
He also said that while Americans ask whether they are better off after four years, he had another question: "Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago."
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who also accepted his party's renomination for running mate, added his own blast at Mr. Romney's business record at Bain Capital, saying it led the Republican candidate to mistakenly oppose the auto bailout.
"The Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits, but it's not the way to lead our country from the highest office," Mr. Biden said.
Democrats cast the election as not only a referendum on Mr. Obama's term in office, but also a choice election where voters must decide between two dramatically different visions of government power and the rights and responsibilities of the country's citizens.
Mr. Obama emerges from his convention with a party firmly unified behind him, though, according to polls, Democrats and the independents who backed him in 2008 are less enthusiastic than they were four years ago.
Facing that headwind, Mr. Obama tried to reignite the sense of purpose he instilled in 2008, when his calls for "hope" and "change" drew millions of new voters to the Democratic banner.
"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. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are trying to make it harder for you to vote" he said. "Only you can make sure that doesn't happen."
He laid out a series of goals he said would guide a second term, including boosting manufacturing in the U.S., slowing the growth of college tuition and cutting the deficit — goals he has laid out before, with mixed results.
The federal government this week topped $16 trillion in gross debt and has run trillion-dollar deficits every year Mr. Obama has been in office as he and congressional Republicans have combined to boost spending and cut taxes, all meant to bring the country out of its economic slump.
While notching major legislative victories, including his health care initiative that was upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year, Mr. Obama has repeatedly clashed with Congress over the government's fiscal health, reflecting an uncertainty among voters themselves about the size and scope of government that they want to see.
Mr. Obama, though, said it's time for voters to take sides.
He cast this year's election as a referendum on his vision of an active federal government seeking to use its powers to boost middle-class Americans while demanding "shared responsibility" in higher taxes on the wealthy and tighter rules of the road on businesses, and stacked that up against Mr. Romney, who Democrats have used their convention to portray as out of touch with average Americans' needs.
Mr. Obama did not, however, defend — or even mention — his two biggest legislative achievements of his term: an overhaul of health care, and the $831 billion stimulus that he had promised would rescue the economy.
The final day of the convention was held indoors at Time Warner Cable Arena after Mr. Obama's campaign on Wednesday canceled the outdoor stadium speech they had planned.
They cited weather for the move — and indeed a rainstorm drenched Charlotte in the afternoon, seemingly justifying the decision, though it did little to quell the questions about why the campaign took the chance on scheduling the stadium speech in the first place.
Rain has been a constant much of the week, including on Saturday when a pelting rain, buffeted by severe winds, ate away the elbow on a Mount Rushmore-style sand sculpture of Mr. Obama.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Obama held a conference call with many of those who traveled to Charlotte to sit in the stadium, but who were left out when the night's events were moved inside the arena.
He said he is still counting on them to do the legwork to get him re-elected.
"This is still going to be a really close election, and the other side is preparing to unleash just a barrage of negative ads, they're getting massive checks from wealthy donors," he told them. "The good thing is, I've got you. I really need your help, guys."
Mr. Obama spoke a day ahead of the August jobs report from the Labor Department. A good jobs number could help him gain momentum as he leaves the convention, while a bad number could undo whatever progress he and his party may have made with voters.
ADP, a payroll company, released its own numbers Thursday suggesting that companies added more than 200,000 jobs in August, which would be the best number in more than half a year.
Next up for Mr. Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are the presidential debates, which begin a month from now.
Mr. Romney this week remained holed up in the Northeast preparing for the debates and leaving the front pages to Democrats.
But in a statement Thursday night he said voters should base their vote on whether their situation has improved under Mr. Obama.
"He offered more promises, but he hasn't kept the promises he made four years ago," Mr. Romney said. "Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record — they know they're not better off and that it's time to change direction."
Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are running about even in national polls, though the president has the edge in nearly every battleground state.
But Mr. Romney has an edge in another vital area — his campaign treasury is bulging, and he has outraised Mr. Obama in the last two fundraising reports.
Aware of the challenge, Mr. Obama blasted our an urgent email plea for money just minutes before he took the stage on Thursday, asking for supporters to give $25 — five times his usual ask in these emails.
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