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Charlotte, N.C. • With a vigorous defense of the government's role in society and a vow to champion the middle class, President Barack Obama asked the American public for a second term in office Thursday.

And in doing so he presented an upbeat view of the future that includes a boom in manufacturing jobs, a cleaner planet and less debt.

What he didn't promise is that his vision would become a quick reality as he struck a more tempered tone than he did in the heady days of his 2008 victory.

"America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder — but it leads to a better place," he said. "Yes our road is longer — but we travel it together."

Framing the election as "the clearest choice in a generation," Obama addressed a convention center jammed with Democratic activists and a television audience of millions. With a confident and at times subdued delivery, Obama spent nearly 40 minutes drawing a stark distinction between himself and Republican rival Mitt Romney, whom he mentioned only once by name.

He argued Romney's prescription for the stubbornly weak economy centers on more tax cuts — and government reductions that would hurt a large swath of Americans.

"Over and over, we have been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way," he said, "that since government can't do everything, it should do almost nothing."

While lauding the private sector as the engine for economic growth and entrepreneurs as "dreamers," Obama also sought to rebut what he has seen as the demonizing of government and the people who are helped by public programs.

"We don't think 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."

For months, Obama has argued that this election is a fight between drastically different world views, while the Romney campaign has attempted to saddle the president with the responsibility for persistent unemployment that sits at 8.3 percent.

"Tonight President Obama laid out the choice in this election, making the case for more of the same policies that haven't worked for the past four years," said Romney's campaign manager Matt Rhoads. "Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record — they know they're not better off and that it's time to change direction."

In accepting the Republican nomination in Tampa, Fla., last week, Romney claimed the president was a nice man, but a failure when it came to rescuing the economy and a person who could not live up to the expectations he set for himself.

"You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him," Romney said.

The attention on Obama's convention address — and any boost in public support — could be short-lived if economic analysts have a good bead on the economy.

On Friday, the latest monthly job numbers come out and they are expected to show some modest job growth but not enough to have a significant impact on the unemployment rate.

The president tried to insulate himself from bad economic news by comparing the recession and its effects to the Great Depression.

"It will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades," he said. "It 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."

While Obama focused primarily on the economy, he also contrasted his foreign policy victories — the end of the Iraq War and the death of Osama bin Laden — with Romney's lack of international experience, picking on Romney's comment that Russia, and not al Qaida, was the United States' No. 1 geopolitical foe and his criticism of the 2012 Olympics that outraged London's leaders.

It was a common refrain from speakers on the convention stage, but Obama's jab was one of the sharpest.

"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," he said. "You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."

And after Democrats slammed Romney for failing to mention the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the troops in harm's way, Obama and a number of speakers paid tribute to service members. Vice President Joe Biden teared up when listing the number of troops killed or wounded in the recent wars — "6,473 fallen angels and the 49,746 wounded."

The address had few of the rhetorical flourishes that marked Obama's last two convention appearances, but he didn't abandon the call for "hope" and "change" that were at the center of his first presidential run.

Instead, he put a new twist on the slogan, saying that it is the Americans he meets that have given him hope, a word he used 15 times. And he said it is the people who supported his campaign that deserve the credit for health reform, changes to the federally subsidized student loan and a new policy allowing the children of some undocumented immigrants to gain temporary legal status.

"The election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you," Obama said. "My fellow citizens — you were the change."

Twitter: @mattcanham

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