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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - President Obama on Thursday night accepted the Democratic nomination for a second term with an impassioned but sobering call to stay the course and a series of steps aimed to right a sluggish economy that threatens his re-election.
"I'm asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country - goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation," the president said at the Democratic National Convention.
"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."
Locked in a tight race with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Obama delivered an address that was largely shorn of the lofty rhetoric that has long been one of his trademarks.
Instead, Obama cited accomplishments such as the auto bailout and the killing of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden while spelling out a series of second-term goals, including:
. Reducing the federal deficit by at least $4 trillion over the next decade.
. Doubling U.S. exports by 2014 and creating a million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016.
. Cutting oil imports in half and adding 600,000 jobs in the natural gas industry by 2020.
. Training 2 million workers at community college for jobs in industry suffering from skills shortages.
. Recruiting 100,000 new math and science teachers.
. Cutting the cost increases in college tuition by half over the next 10 years.
Romney, predictably, wasn't impressed. Shortly after the Obama campaign released excerpts of the president's speech, Romney tweeted: "At the 2008 DNC, Barack Obama criticized an economy in 'turmoil.' After 4 years of his leadership, it's no better."
Obama stressed, though, that he expects no magic economic recovery four years after the nation entered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy," he 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," the president added. "It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that [President] Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one."
That vision stands in stark contrast to that of the Republicans, the president said.
"All they have to offer is the same prescription they've had for the last 30 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!" Obama said, prompting laughter from the crowd of about 20,000 packed into Time Warner Cable Arena.
Obama got personal, too, attacking Romney most sharply on foreign policy.
"My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that 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 - and not al-Qaida - unless you're still stuck in a Cold War time warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."
Obama's speech capped a three-day Democratic convention marked by unusually emotional moments.
And one of the most emotional came at 8 p.m. Thursday, when former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona limped onto stage accompanied by the Democratic national chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.
Twenty months after being shot in the head and nearly losing her life, Giffords sounded strong and clear-throated as she led the convention crowd of about 20,000 in the Pledge of Allegiance.
And the crowd responded with welling eyes and a sustained chant of "Gabby! Gabby!"
Earlier, television cameras showed Vice President Biden welling with tears, too, as his son Beau moved that the convention nominate him by acclamation.
While Obama's speech was the most anticipated of the convention, Biden was on the agenda, as well.
And he assumed the vice presidential candidate's traditional role - that of attack dog.
Biden started with a sly allusion to Romney's record running Bain Capital, a private equity firm with connections with the early pioneers of the "outsourcing" of jobs overseas.
"I found it fascinating last week when Gov. Romney said that as president, he'd take a jobs tour," Biden said. "Well, with all his support for outsourcing, it's going to have to be a foreign trip."
Calling Obama "a president who has always stood up for you," Biden said that there was a sharp contrast between Obama and Romney.
"Look, President Obama knows that creating jobs in America - keeping jobs in America and bringing jobs back to America - is what being president is all about," Biden said.
Biden was by no means the only speaker to take dead aim at Romney.
Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, chided the Republican for his much-criticized diplomatic trip to Europe and Israel this summer.
"For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas," Kerry said. "It wasn't a good will mission - it was a blooper reel."
In contrast, Kerry said Obama has provided a steady hand in foreign affairs while being bold enough to authorize the attack that killed bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks.
"Ask Osama bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago," Kerry said.
Meanwhile, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said the increasing extremism of the Republican Party drove him away from the GOP and made him an independent.
Republicans are "beholden to 'my way or the highway' bullies, indebted to billionaires who bankroll ads and allergic to the very idea of compromise," Crist said. "Ronald Reagan would not have stood for that. Barack Obama does not stand for that. You and I won't stand for that."
Before the headliners, the convention program was studded with stars of a different kind.
James Taylor and the Foo Fighters performed, and the grunge rock band's lead singer, Dave Grohl, dedicated the band's song "My Hero" to the president.
A bit later, actress Eva Longoria took the stage and endorsed Obama's tax agenda, which includes tax hikes on the wealthy.
"The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy's flipping burgers needed a tax break, but the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not," she said.
The program concluded a Democratic convention that featured former President Bill Clinton's acerbic annihilation of what he called "the Romney-Ryan budget" and a heartfelt address by first lady Michelle Obama that delegates have been raving about ever since. The first lady returned to the stage Thursday night to introduce her husband, who took office four years ago at the depths of the Great Recession.
With job creation and unemployment numbers for August set to be released this morning, Obama seemed determined to dampen expectations of a quick upturn while urging voters to buy into his program.
"Know this, America: Our problems can be solved," he said. "Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I'm asking you to choose that future."
In an obvious shout-out to voters suspicious of Washington, Obama said: "We don't think government can solve all our problems."
But he was quick to add: "We don't think that government is the source of all our problems - any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we're told to blame for our troubles."
Still, Obama made clear that he believes government has more of a role in solving the nation's problems than does Romney, who stressed lower taxes and less regulation in his convention speech last week.
"When all is said and done," Obama said, "when you pick up that ballot to vote, you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation."

email: jzremski@buffnews.com and rmccarthy@buffnews.com