President Barack Obama hits the campaign trail on Friday after accepting his party's nomination for re-election by telling the Democratic National Convention and the nation that only the voters in November have the power to secure the change he started.
In a tough speech that concluded the three-day convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, the president warned that achievements made possible by his victory four years ago would be wiped out if Republican challenger Mitt Romney wins the election two months away.
"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," Obama said, depicting a scenario in which special interests and conservative politicians run Washington and the country. " ... Only you can make sure that doesn't happen. Only you have the power to move us forward."
Acknowledging the nation's hope has been tested since he first addressed the party conclave with a keynote speech in 2004, the president urged Americans to look beyond the "trivial" nature of election campaigns to fully grasp the magnitude of the upcoming contest.
"When all is said and done -- when you pick up that ballot to vote -- you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation," he said. "Over the next few years, big decisions will be made in Washington, on jobs and the economy; taxes and deficits; energy and education; war and peace -- decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives and our children's lives for decades to come."
It is more than a choice between two candidates or parties, he said, calling it "a choice between two different paths for America, a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future."
The Romney campaign responded by saying Obama continued to offer polices that haven't worked under his presidency, which has seen high unemployment, a sluggish economic recovery and rising federal deficits and debt.
"Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record -- they know they're not better off and that it's time to change direction," the Romney campaign statement said.
CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger called Obama's speech "defiant at every single level," particularly its criticism of Romney's lack of experience on foreign policy," while CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen said Obama was "presidential" but offered little new in the way of specific promises.
Both Obama and Romney enter the final phase of the campaign with events Friday in the same states -- Iowa and New Hampshire -- while Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, heads to Nevada. All three states are considered up for grabs in a contest predicted to be extremely close at such a late stage.
Goals for job creation, education, energy
Obama's speech on Thursday night culminated a convention that responded to the GOP's conclave last week that sought to define the election as a referendum on the president and his record.
He sought to link voters who put him in power to the benefits of policies he pursued, some of them controversial and almost all of them opposed by Republicans, saying: "My fellow citizens -- you were the change.
Reciting stories of how the 2010 health care reform bill helped a young girl get surgery she needed, and how expanded student loans helped a man pursue a medical degree, the president declared "you did that' and "you made that possible."
He called for the nation to rally around "a real, achievable plan" to deal with the economic challenges that are the most problematic issues facing his campaign.
Specific goals included creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016, halving net oil imports by 2020, cutting the growth of college tuition in half over the next 10 years, training 2 million workers for jobs and supporting natural gas development that can employ 600,000 people by the end of the decade.
Three of the goals are new -- the increase in manufacturing jobs, the cut in college tuition increases and the reduction in oil imports -- while the others have been previously discussed by the president or his administration.
"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have," Obama said, adding "it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades."
In an obvious message to independents and moderate voters of both parties, Obama sought to distance himself from the accusation by Romney that he is a big-government liberal.
"Those of us who carry on his party's legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington," Obama said.
Following the theme of the forceful endorsement he received Wednesday night from former President Bill Clinton, Obama also offered an optimistic outlook for the future to contrast with Republican warnings of a nation in peril.
"We don't think that government can solve all our problems," he said. "But 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."
He claimed founding principles as the dominion of Democrats as well as Republicans, declaring that "we, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense."
Obama also delivered some biting criticism of Romney and Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin, saying their economic plan of tax cuts and shrinking government will undermine the economy rather than promote growth.
In a mocking tone, he characterized the Republican remedy for growth as "take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning."