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Obama warns voters that turning away now means change will not happen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Obama asked voters to stick with him despite a sputtering economy in a Thursday night speech accepting his party's presidential nomination that alternated hopeful calls for the future with a mocking tone for Republicans.

Obama made the case before a crowd of 22,000 and millions watching at home that he’d led the country through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, when Franklin Roosevelt was the last president to win reelection with employment over 8 percent.

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Harkening back to his campaign four years ago, he warned the path forward would not be “quick or easy,” but said turning away now would mean “change will not happen.” He also repeatedly returned to the idea of hope, arguing the country’s future was full of it despite hardships of the last four years.

Quoting Scripture, he said, “Ours is a future filled with hope.

“And if you share that faith with me — if you share that hope with me — I ask you tonight for your vote,” he said.

Obama emphasized that the 2012 election is a choice between himself and his opponent, Mitt Romney, whose name he generally avoided using during the 38-minute address.

He drew some of his most enthusiastic cheers in Charlotte with repeated jabs at the man he called “my opponent” on everything from the deficit to foreign policy, seen by many as one of Obama’s strengths.

“My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy but from all we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly,” Obama said. “After all, you don’t call Russia our No. 1 enemy — not al Qaeda, Russia — unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.

“You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally,” he continued to laughter and applause from the crowd.

“My opponent said that it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq, and he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan. Well I have, and I will.”

Time after time throughout the speech, Obama sought to bolster his policies while knocking Romney, framing the election as a choice between two visions as opposed to a referendum on his first term.

“They want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan,” he said. “And that’s because all they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last thirty years. Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning,” he said to even more applause.

At the same time, Obama, on a more somber note, aimed to sway voters to stick with him for another four years, explaining that his policies will eventually bring the country back from the down economy and high unemployment.

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy,” Obama said. “I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. 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.”

Setting up the election as a choice is critical for Obama, who can expect unemployment to stand above 8 percent when voters go to the polls. A new jobs report will be released Friday morning, and a negative report could take away any bounce Obama might hope to get from his convention.

Obama took the stage to roaring cheers from jubilant Democratic delegates packing the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. His appearance capped a strong week in the Queen City and a celebratory night, as Democrats shrugged off both the economic torpor and a late change that forced the convention to scrap its planned finale in an outdoor football stadium.

Gone was the president’s 2008 slogan, “Change You Can Believe In.” But the delegates, who has been entertained all evening by the likes of Foo Fighters, Mary J. Blige, and James Taylor, danced in their seats and filled the gaps in the evenings programming with the president’s rallying cry, “Fired Up! Ready to Go!” And they met him with an ear-piercing roar when he took to the podium.

Obama’s address started slowly, with a wonkish and lengthy summary of what Obama viewed as his domestic achievements.

But the president and his crowd warmed as the speech went on, and as Obama got a chance to poke his rivals.

Even though the speech was scaled back from the stadium setting, Obama sought to recapture and rekindle the magic from 2008, when he accepted the party’s nomination in a triumphant moment.

In that speech four years ago, as scoreboards at Invesco Field in Denver blared the slogan du jour “Change Change Change,” and before fireworks lit up the night sky, Obama declared before a crowd of 84,000 people, “America, now is not the time for small plans.”

Closing his speech four years ago, he quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address: “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

In the speech on Thursday, he acknowledged that it’s no longer 2008.

“I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention,” he said. “Times have changed and so have I.

“I’m no longer just a candidate,” he added. “I’m the president.”

In his speech, he offered a glimpse into what a second administration would look like and appeared to acknowledge the reality of the political polarization that stymied him in the last two years - and which he memorably pledged to transcend in 2008.

He argued his vision for the country 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.”

He also gave an unmistakable nod to the anti-government forces that carried Republicans to victory in 2010. Channeling both Roosevelt and the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, Obama said Democrats “should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.”

— Updated at 12:19 a.m.