CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - His re-election in doubt, President Barack Obama conceded only halting progress Thursday night toward fixing the nation's stubborn economic woes, but vowed in a Democratic National Convention finale, "Our problems can be solved, our challenges can be met."
"The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place," Obama declared in advance excerpts of a prime-time speech to delegates and the nation.
The president's speech was the final act of a pair of highly scripted national political conventions in as many weeks, and the opening salvo of a two-month drive toward Election Day that pits Obama against Republican rival Mitt Romney. The contest is close for the White House in a dreary season of economic struggle for millions.
In the run-up to Obama's speech, delegates erupted in tumultuous cheers when former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, grievously wounded in a 2011 assassination attempt, walked onstage to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. The cheers grew louder when she blew kisses to the crowd.
And louder still when huge video screens inside the hall showed the face of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind killed in a daring raid on his Pakistani hideout by U.S. special operations forces - on a mission approved by the current commander in chief.
With unemployment at 8.3 percent, Obama said the task of recovering from the economic disaster of 2008 is exceeded in American history only by the challenge Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced when he took office in the Great Depression in 1933.
"It will require common effort, shared responsibility and the kind of bold persistent experimentation" that FDR employed, Obama said.
In an appeal to independent voters who might be considering a vote for Romney, he added that those who carry on Roosevelt's legacy "should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington."
The hall was filled to capacity long before Obama stepped to the podium, and officials shut off the entrances because of a fear of overcrowding for a speech that the campaign had originally slated for the 74,000-seat football stadium nearby. Aides said weather concerns prompted the move to the convention arena, capacity 15,000 or so.
Obama's campaign said the president would ask the country to rally around a "real achievable plan that will create jobs, expand opportunity and ensure an economy built to last."
He added, "The truth is it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over a decade."
The evening also included a nomination acceptance speech from Vice President Joe Biden, whose appeal to blue collar voters rivals or even exceeds Obama's own. Delegates approved his nomination to a new term by acclamation as he and his family watched from VIP seats above the convention floor.
Biden told the convention in his own speech that he had watched as Obama "made one gutsy decision after another" to stop an economic free-fall after they took office in 2009. Now, he said, "we're on a mission to move this nation forward - from doubt and downturn to promise and prosperity. ... America has turned the corner."
With Obama in the hall listening, Biden jabbed at the president's challenger, as well.
"I found it fascinating last week - when Governor Romney said that as President he'd take a jobs tour. Well with all his support for outsourcing - it's going to have to be a foreign trip."
First lady Michelle Obama, popular with the public, was ready to introduce her husband, two nights after she delivered her own speech in the convention's opening session.
Delegates who packed into their convention hall were serenaded by singer James Taylor and rocked by R&B blues artist Mary J. Blige as they awaited Obama's speech.
There was no end to the jabs aimed at Romney and the Republicans.
"Ask Osama bin Laden if he's better off than four years ago," said Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who lost the 2004 election in a close contest with President George W. Bush. It was a mocking answer to the Republicans' repeated question of whether Americans are better off than when Obama took office.
The campaign focus was shifting quickly - to politically sensitive monthly unemployment figures due out Friday morning and the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 in Denver. Wall Street hit a four-year high a few hours before Obama's speech after the European Central Bank laid out a concrete plan to support the region's struggling countries.
The economy is by far the dominant issue in the campaign, and the differences between Obama and his challenger could hardly be more pronounced.
Romney wants to extend all tax cuts that are due to expire on Dec. 31 with an additional 20 percent reduction in rates across the board, arguing that job growth would result. He also favors deep cuts in domestic programs ranging from education to parks, repeal of the health care legislation that Obama pushed through Congress and landmark changes in Medicare, the program that provides health care to seniors.
Obama wants to renew the tax cuts except on incomes higher than $250,000, saying that millionaires should contribute to an overall attack on federal deficits. He also criticizes the spending cuts Romney advocates, saying they would fall unfairly on the poor, lower-income college students and others. He argues that Republicans would "end Medicare as we know it" and saddle seniors with ever-rising costs.
After two weeks of back-to-back conventions, the impact on the race remained to be determined.
You're not going to see big bounces in this election," said David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser. "For the next 61 days, it's going to remain tight as a tick."
Romney wrapped up several days of debate rehearsals with close aides in Vermont and is expected to resume full-time campaigning in the next day or two.
In a brief stop to talk with veterans on Thursday, he defended his decision to omit mention of the war in Afghanistan when he delivered his acceptance speech last week at the Republican National Convention. He noted he had spoken to the American Legion only one day before.
Romney's campaign released its first new television ad since the convention season began.
It shows Clinton sharply questioning Obama's credibility on the Iraq War in 2008, saying "Give me a break, this whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen." Obama was running against Hillary Rodham Clinton at the time for the Democratic nomination.
It will likely be a week or more before the two campaigns can fully digest post-convention polls and adjust their strategies for the fall.
Based on the volume of campaign appearances to date and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent already on television advertising, the election appears likely to be decided in a small number of battleground states.
The list includes New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa, as well as Florida and North Carolina, the states where first Republicans and then Democrats held their conventions. Those states hold 100 electoral votes among them, out of 270 needed to win the White House.
Money has become an ever-present concern for the Democrats, an irony given the overwhelming advantage Obama held over John McCain in the 2008 campaign.
This time, Romney is outpacing him, and independent groups seeking the Republican's election are pouring tens of millions of dollars into television advertising, far exceeding what Obama's supporters can afford.
2012 DNC: President Obama to address DNC
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - President Barack Obama goes before the Democratic National Convention and the nation on Thursday for a capstone speech designed not just to persuade undecided voters to swing his way but to put fire in the belly of his supporters.
Obama senior adviser David Plouffe promised the president would give voters "a very clear sense of where he thinks the country needs to go economically, the path we need to take."
But he also cautioned that no one should expect Obama to slingshot out of his convention with a huge boost in polls that have long signaled a close race.
"You're not going to see big bounces in this election," said Plouffe, up early to preview the president's speech on morning talk shows. He added: "For the next 61 days, it's going to remain tight as a tick."
Citing a chance of thunderstorms, convention organizers scrapped plans for Obama to speak to an enormous crowd in a 74,000-seat outdoor stadium and decided to shoehorn the event into the convention arena, which accommodates 15,000.
That means no reprise of the massive show of support, excitement - and on-scene voter registration - from Obama's 2008 acceptance speech before 84,000 in Denver.
Republicans said Democrats made the switch because they feared the sight of empty seats.
Obama told supporters he regrets having to move his acceptance speech indoors, but says he couldn't risk their safety given the possibility of severe weather.
Obama spoke on a conference call to people who had tickets to the outdoor event. The president told supporters he wouldn't "let a little thunder and lightning get us down." He says his team will do everything it can to get those supporters into other campaign events between now and Election Day.
Skies over downtown Charlotte were overcast Thursday afternoon, with small glimpses of sunshine mixed in, leaving a potential opening for second-guessers.
The National Weather Service was predicting a 30 percent chance of precipitation and scattered showers and thunderstorms through the evening.
In an election in which the economy is the top issue to voters, the president got some encouraging news from new reports that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell by 12,000 last week and that businesses stepped up hiring last month.
Next up: The August jobless report, due out Friday. Among those giving warm-up speeches for the president Thursday night: Vice President Joe Biden and actress Eva Longoria.
Longoria, appearing on NBC's "Today," said she's "been in the trenches" for Obama defending his record and promised her speech will be very different from Clint Eastwood's meandering remarks to the Republicans a week earlier.
"No empty chairs," she promised, a reference to Eastwood's conversation with an empty chair representing Obama. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was speaking too, and he gave voice to the Democrats' nervousness about the GOP advantage in fundraising during a morning interview on CNN, citing the dollars pouring in from Republican-leaning super PACs.
"We've got 17 angry, old, white men who are pouring in millions of dollars, carpet bombing every candidate in sight," Durbin said.
First lady Michelle Obama aimed to help the Democrats catch up, appearing at a private meeting of Obama's national finance committee. And former President Bill Clinton popped out his second fundraising email in as many days.
Even as the president asks voters to stick with him, Mitt Romney and the Republicans keep nudging Obama's supporters to rethink their allegiance to a president seeking re-election in a time of weak economic growth. The party released a new ad Thursday called "The Breakup," in which a woman tells the president: "This just isn't working ... You're not the person I thought you were. ... I think we should just be friends."
On Obama's big day, Romney was in Vermont preparing for the fall debates. He planned to drive back to his home in New Hampshire in the afternoon.
Underscoring the importance of a turn of phrase, the president said in a TV interview that he had "regrets for my syntax" when he told a campaign crowd last month that people who had a business "didn't build that." Romney turned the president's line into a rallying cry, claiming Obama overstated the importance of government's role.
But Obama said he stands by his point that the government has provided strong support to small businesses.
"Everyone who was there watching knows exactly what I was saying," he said in the interview with WWBT in Norfolk, Va. Ryan, campaigning in Colorado, needled Obama about the phrase anew on Thursday, saying government shouldn't get the credit for business owners' achievements.
He lamented "the most partisan president, the most acrimonious climate, the bitter partisan environment."
Clinton set up Obama's speech with a rollicking turn on the stage Wednesday in which he offered a strong defense of the president's economic stewardship.
"He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs," said Clinton - the last president to see sustained growth, in the 1990s.
"Conditions are improving and if you'll renew the president's contract, you will feel it." Clinton also preached bipartisanship and a pullback from politics as "blood sport" - this near the end of back-to-back conventions that feasted on rhetorical red meat and even as he ripped the Republican agenda as a throwback to the past, a "double-down on trickle-down" economics that assumes tax cuts for the wealthy will help everyone down the ladder.
Clinton is expected to campaign for Obama this fall in battleground states. Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod, also appearing on morning talk shows, said Clinton's speech had set out the economic choices, "so now the president can talk about the future having some of that underbrush out of the way."
Former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, a past Democratic Party chairman who appeared on "CBS This Morning," said that for all the excitement of the convention, he's still worried "about the base turning out to the degree they did" for Obama in 2008.
He cited the battleground states of North Carolina and Virginia in particular. Speaking of the convention speeches delivered by the first lady and the former president, Rendell added: "The beauty of Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton is they stoked the base."
Motivation was not an issue in the convention hall, at least not when Clinton spoke.
The hall rocked with cheers as Clinton strode onstage to Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop," his 1992 campaign theme song, and he held the crowd rapt as he drifted off his prepared remarks for about 50 minutes.
He accused Republicans of proposing "the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place" and led to a near financial meltdown. Those, he said, include efforts to provide "tax cuts for higher-income Americans, more money for defense than the Pentagon wants and ... deep cuts on programs that help the middle class and poor children."