CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With his presidency on the line, President Barack Obama on Thursday asked for more time from voters, acknowledging that despite his lofty goals of hope and change, the economy is going to take years to recover.
As he sought to regain trust from a disaffected electorate weary of months of high unemployment, Obama warned of tough times as the nation emerges from what he said are "challenges that have built up over decades." But he offered a rousing defense of his stewardship and insisted his vision -- not that of his Republican rival, Mitt Romney -- will lead to true prosperity for the middle class.
"Know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met," Obama said. "The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I'm asking you to choose that future."
In a speech that at times seemed far from the soaring rhetoric of his first nomination speech as he detailed what he's accomplished and still needs to do, Obama used one of the biggest platforms he'll have before Election Day to convince the electorate he's on the right path.
"Yes, our road is longer -- but we travel it together. We don't turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth," he said.
After attacking Romney for failing to offer specific proposals at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., last week, Obama outlined a series of goals including creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs, recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers and reducing the deficit by more than $4 trillion.
"They want your vote, but they don't want you to know their plan," Obama said. "And that's because all they have to offer is the same prescription they've had for the last 30 years."
Republicans immediately called his goals scaled down or recycled promises from 2008.
With polls showing the race against Romney tight and voters focused on the economy, Obama needed to energize his dispirited base and persuade undecided voters that he's set the economy on the right track and his prescription will restore middle class prosperity.
"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," he told a cheering crowd at the Time Warner Cable Arena.
Obama cast the election as a choice between "two different paths for America," charging that Republicans are only offering "the same prescription they've offered for the last 30 years: tax cuts."
He blamed Republicans for preventing him from accomplishing more, but he did not fully explain how he would work with House Republicans in the future. He took some swipes at Romney, in particular zinging Romney on his foreign trip, but he only once mentioned him by name, when he spoke about his disdain for providing tax breaks to the wealthy.
"No party has a monopoly on wisdom. No democracy works without compromise," Obama said. "But when Gov. Romney and his allies in Congress tell us we can somehow lower our deficit by spending trillions more on new tax breaks for the wealthy -- well, you do the math. I refuse to go along with that. And as long as I'm president, I never will."
He delivered a forceful defense of his record while asking for patience, invoking Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to bring the U.S. out of the Great Depression -- "the only crisis worse than this one."
"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have," Obama said. "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."
He made the case for an active government, saying recovery "will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued."
Republicans have lambasted Democrats for looking to government to solve problems, and Obama included a caution to his own side, noting that it "should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington."
He sought to use his platform -- a major prime-time speech attracting possibly 40 million viewers across the country -- to woo the last undecided voters at a time when campaign officials said Americans were just starting to pay attention after returning from their summer vacations and Labor Day holidays.