CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — President Barack Obama said Thursday he will urge supporters to defy the “cynics” one more time when he pitches for four more White House years in his crucial convention address.
Obama, 51, faces a high bar to better the speeches of his wife Michelle and Bill Clinton as he formally accepts the Democratic nomination for president exactly two months before his election clash with Republican Mitt Romney.
He was due to step to the podium at the Democratic National Convention in a riot of noise and color at 0200 GMT for his best chance to convince Americans that he deserves a second and final term despite a lingering economic malaise.
The prime-time address comes with Obama waging a too-close-to-call race with Romney, who argues that 8.3 percent unemployment and sluggish growth prove the president is out of ideas and should be sent back to Chicago after one term.
Obama is expected to tell Americans that he rescued them from a second Great Depression, blame Republicans for leaving him a legacy of debt and recession, and warn Romney’s policies would risk repeating the disaster.
He is also under pressure for the first time to lay out specifics of what he would hope to do in a second term, and to go into more detail than the largely aspirational vision he has so far framed.
“I think hopefully at the end of this convention people will say we accomplished what we needed to and have delivered our vision for the country and offered a clear contrast to (Republicans),” Obama said Thursday.
“But this is still going to be a really close election,” Obama said in an online chat for supporters disappointed when his campaign, fearing thunder, cancelled plans to hold the speech before 70,000 people outdoors.
“I need you to prove the cynics wrong one more time.”
Democrats will devote a portion of Thursday’s program to lionizing Obama’s record on national security, an area in which polls show he is favored over Romney.
Obama’s decision to order a special forces raid deep into Pakistan last year to kill Osama bin Laden will doubtless play a starring role, along with his honored 2008 campaign vow to end the Iraq war.
Former Democratic nominee John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden will lead tributes to Obama as commander-in-chief, hoping to capitalize on Romney’s failure to mention the Afghan war in his own convention address last week.
Obama, who riffed off two acclaimed convention speeches in 2004 and 2008, recognized that he faced a tough task to top Clinton’s speech on Wednesday and his wife Michelle’s the day before.
“Michelle — what can I say? I’m a little biased, but she was unbelievable. And yesterday President Clinton, who I think broke down the issues as effectively as anybody could.”
Anticipation was building around the sports arena hosting Obama’s address.
“We’re going to hear the best speech of his life tonight,” said campaign volunteer Brenda Stone.
Lavonia Perryman, vice president of the Michigan black caucus, said however that Obama might struggle to repeat the kind of exuberance he whipped up four years ago.
“That is almost like saying we are going to have the first Easter again. Jesus Christ only came one time. We celebrate it, but we don’t have him coming back, that ain’t gonna happen.”
Delegates were also buzzing about former two-term Democratic president Clinton, who has lost none of his ability to make crisp political arguments.
Clinton appealed to Democrats, crucial independents and undecided voters, delivering a point-by-point rebuttal of Republican attacks and an unequivocal embrace of Obama, laying to rest previous tensions.
“He has laid the foundations for a new, modern successful economy of shared prosperity, and if you will renew the president’s contract, you will feel it,” Clinton said.
“Folks, whether the American people believe what I said or not may be the whole election, I just want you to know that I believe it. With all my heart I believe it.”
Obama bounded on stage after the speech and Clinton greeted him with a low bow and a brotherly hug.
The Romney campaign retorted by highlighting the contrast between the prosperity of the Clinton years and the cloudy economic climate of the Obama era.
“President Clinton drew a stark contrast between himself and President Obama,” said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams.
“President Clinton’s speech brought the disappointment and failure of President Obama’s time in office clearly into focus.”
Democrats hope Obama’s arguments will not be undercut by the release on Friday of the latest Labor Department jobs figures.
However, optimism that the numbers could exceed expectations blossomed Thursday with the publication of the closely watched survey by payrolls firm ADP, which showed private-sector employment rose by 201,000 in August.