CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - President Barack Obama asked Americans on Thursday for patience in rebuilding the weak economy as he appealed for a new term in office and defiantly rejected Republican Mitt Romney's proposals for growth as heartless.
Accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention, Obama gave a more down-to-earth follow-up to his 2008 "hope and change" message. Weighed down by wars, high unemployment and political gridlock, he projected a tone that was more subdued, less exuberant.
Obama told Americans they face starkly different paths in choosing between him and Romney in the November 6 election. He said his way may be hard but will bring economic renewal.
"America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now," he said. "Yes our path is harder - but it leads to a better place. Yes, our road is longer, but we travel it together."
Locked in the political fight of his life with two months to go until the election, Obama faces the challenge of recapturing the magic of his historic campaign of four years ago and generating enthusiasm among voters who are weary of economic hardship.
The convention was Obama's best chance to appeal to the nation until the presidential debates start in October.
With tight stagecraft, the Democrats introduced speakers every night of the event in Charlotte to reach out to key parts of their base of support - promoting women's issues, Obama's auto bailout, Hispanic voters, gay rights and economic security for the middle class.
Obama's nationally televised address was more of a steady-as-you-go message that outlined priorities like creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs but offered few details on how to achieve them. Early media reaction to the speech was not as glowing as it was for an address to the convention by former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday.
Obama argued that his economic measures, like the 2009 bailout of the auto industry, are working and asked Americans to rally around a set of goals: Expanding manufacturing and energy jobs and U.S. exports, improving education and trimming $4 trillion from America's $16 trillion debt.
Repeatedly contrasting his own priorities with those he said were Romney's, Obama cast the Republican as uncaring of middle-class Americans, pushing a theme that the former executive is elitist and only interested in helping those like him.
All Romney wants to do, said Obama, is reward the wealthy with tax cuts, deregulate banks and let energy companies write a policy for more oil drilling.
"I don't believe that rolling back regulations on Wall Street will help the small businesswoman expand, or the laid-off construction worker keep his home. We've been there, we've tried that, and we're not going back," he said.
Romney has vowed to cut taxes for Americans by 20 percent, including the wealthy, and eliminate some popular income tax deductions to help make up the loss in revenues. He would sharply ramp up oil production and trade with the aim of creating 12 million jobs over four years.
MILLIONAIRES' TAX CUTS, MEDICARE
Obama tried to pick Romney's proposals apart.
"I refuse to ask middle class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire's tax cut," said Obama.
And he took a shot at Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's plan to overhaul the Medicare health insurance plan by giving seniors a limited amount of money through vouchers.
"I will never turn Medicare into a voucher. No American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies," said the president.
Democrats formed "watch parties" in Charlotte to see the speech on television after convention organizers moved it indoors from a large outdoor stadium due to the threat of stormy weather.
Joan Crick, 70, a retired teacher from Michigan, drove down from her home state and joined hundreds of people at a Charlotte convention center. Obama fans were clapping, cheering, aping chants on television, jumping up and down.
"People were giving standing ovations even though it was a TV," she said.
Leading up to Obama's address, convention speakers played up his record, from ordering the mission that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden to lifting restrictions that barred gays from serving openly in the military.
"Ask Osama bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago," Senator John Kerry said, feeding off Republican arguments that Americans are not better off under Obama's leadership.
Romney professed himself not interested in watching the speech and his campaign dismissed the address as making the case for more of the same policies that have not worked for the past four years.
"Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record - they know they're not better off and that it's time to change direction," said Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades.
Obama dismissed Romney and Ryan as "new to foreign policy" and criticized a comment that Romney made that Russia is America's biggest geopolitical foe. And he mocked Romney for criticizing London's handling of the Olympic Games.
Obama likened his cause to that of Depression-era President Franklin D. Roosevelt in calling for "shared responsibility" and bold experimentation in bringing the U.S. economy further out of the worst recession since the Great Depression.
In an attempt to rebut Romney's charge that Obama is too partial to big government, Obama urged Democrats to "remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington."
Both campaigns will be closely watching the Labor Department's release of its U.S. jobless report for August on Friday for any change to the 8.3 percent unemployment rate.
Other data on Thursday suggested the economy - by far the No.1 issue with voters - could be improving.
Vice President Joe Biden, formally nominated for a second term, gave a boisterous speech before Obama spoke and teared up at one point while talking about war veterans.
Obama "has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and a spine of steel," Biden said, offering an intimate view of his boss.
There was an emotional moment when the pledge of allegiance was led by former U.S. Representative Gabriel Giffords, who was shot through the head in a mass shooting in her home state of Arizona in 2011.
Obama will be looking for a boost from his convention, but has not received much of a bounce yet. A Reuters/Ipsos online poll found Romney had a narrow lead of 45 percent to Obama's 44 percent among likely voters.
(Additional reporting by John Whitesides, Colleen Jenkins, Susan Heavey, Eric Johnson, Sam Jacobs and Sam Youngman; Editing by Alistair Bell and Alden Bentley)