CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Casting the choice as the clearest in a generation, President Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night by outlining a series of goals he would pursue in a second term, including a more vigorous economy and greater energy independence.
“I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country,” Obama said in excerpts released ahead of his speech, which capped the final night of the Democratic National Convention. “Goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security and the deficit.”
Preceded by his running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, Obama said the goals would not be easy to achieve. But they lead “to a better place,” he went on. “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.”
His list included creation of
1 million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016; doubling exports in the next two years; cutting oil imports in half by 2020; slowing by half the growth of college tuition in the next decade and reducing the federal deficit by more than $4 trillion over 10 years.
Speaking exactly two months before voters will render their verdict on Nov. 6, Obama implicitly answered Republican criticism that the country was no better off under his leadership by suggesting the problems he inherited in January 2009 were not susceptible to quick fixes.
“The truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve the challenges that have been built up over decades,” Obama said, making the case for more time and another term.
Biden served up a long and laudatory introduction, describing what he called a behind-the-scenes glimpse of working alongside the president. “Folks, I’ve watched him,” Biden said. “He has never wavered. He never, never backs down. He always steps up.”
He assumed the traditional vice presidential role of taking after the opposition, saying Republicans evaded substance at last week’s GOP convention to hide their true intentions from voters. “Look, in a sense, this could be reduced to a single notion. The two men seeking to lead this country over the next four years — as I said at the outset — have fundamentally different visions and completely different values.”
He reiterated Democratic charges that the Republicans would raise taxes on the middle class, undermine Medicare and ship hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas.
He delivered what has become his signature line, touting two of what he considers the administration’s most important achievements, helping rescue the failing U.S. auto industry and eliminating the leader of al-Qaida.
“Osama bin Laden is dead,” Biden said, “and General Motors is alive.”
The refrain brought the crowd to its feet, as delegates waved blue and red “Fired up” and “Ready for Joe” signs.
The speeches capped a program with several emotional peaks, including a surprise appearance by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot and nearly killed by a deranged gunman while visiting with constituents in January 2011. Arriving to chants of “Gabby!” “Gabby!” she walked onstage with a noticeable limp, then forcefully led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Earlier, delegates gently swayed as folk crooner James Taylor performed “Carolina In My Mind” and laughed when he joked about the president’s struggle for support among older, white voters. I don’t get it,” Taylor said. “I mean, I’m an old white guy and I love Barack Obama.”
Most of the program, however, was devoted to another round of bashing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans, under the rubric of the Obama campaign slogan, “Forward.”
One after another, speakers accused Romney and the GOP of trying to roll back progress: on civil rights, women’s rights, health care, immigration reform and financial regulations that followed the near-meltdown of Wall Street.
“We are going to protect these achievements, and we’re going to move this country in just one direction: forward,” said Rep. David Price, one of a series of home-state lawmakers who opened the convention with welcoming remarks.
Broadening the attacks to foreign policy, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts delivered a scalding speech that described Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, as “the most inexperienced foreign policy twosome” to seek the White House in decades.
He praised Obama for ending U.S. involvement in Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan, helping topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, working with Russia to reduce the world stockpile of nuclear weapons and banning the use of torture against America’s enemies.
As the Democrat’s 2004 nominee Kerry was relentlessly attacked as a flip-flopper. He returned the favor Thursday night, as one of several speakers who accused Romney of shifting positions and lacking a backbone.
“Mr. Romney, here’s a little advice,” he said. “Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself.”
Unlike Romney, who once said it was not worth “moving heaven and Earth” and spending billions to capture one person, Kerry said Obama gave the order “to finally rid this earth of Osama bin Laden.”
Turning a favorite Republican taunt against them, Kerry said, “Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off now than he was four years ago.” The crowd rose to its feet, cheering.
Somewhat lost since 2008 is the historic significance of Obama’s election as the first black president in the nation’s history. Obama has never dwelled on race, which remains a politically touchy subject.
So it was a poignant moment when Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, one of the heroes of the civil rights movement, spoke of traveling through Charlotte as a Freedom Fighter in 1961, the year Obama was born, and being severely beaten as he and others sought to integrate the segregated South.
He spoke of legislation today in several states that makes it harder to vote, and accused Republicans of seeking to suppress turnout for the benefit of Romney and other Republicans.
“That’s not right. That’s not fair. And that is not just,” said Lewis, wagging a finger as his voice rose. “We have come too far together to ever turn back. . We must stand up, speak up and speak out. We must march to the polls like never, ever before.”
Hours before he took the stage, Obama apologized to disappointed supporters shut out of the speech by a decision to move the event from Charlotte’s open-air football stadium to the nearby convention arena.
Organizers cited the threat of thunderstorms as the reason, leaving tens of thousands disappointed, including some volunteers who had worked many hours to earn a ticket to Thursday night’s program. (The campaign hoped to draw 70,000 people to Bank of America stadium; the Time Warner arena seats no more than 20,000.)
To make it up, the president held an afternoon conference call in which he apologized for the cancellation. He thanked his supporters for their efforts and urged them to recommit his campaign for the final, 60-day stretch.
“We can’t let a little thunder and lightning get us down,” Obama said. “We have to roll with it.”
Taking the stage before Obama was his vice president, who was formally installed on the Democratic ticket for a second term after his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, placed his name - “my father, my hero” - in nomination. The vote was by acclamation.
Far from the clamorous convention hall, Romney told a small group of reporters in New Hampshire he had not watched a minute of the Democratic gathering and had no intention of tuning in to watch Obama’s remarks.
The former Massachusetts governor has spent the past few days in New England in preparation for the next big campaign milepost: a series of three presidential debates, set to begin Oct. 3.