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By Richard Wolf, and David Jackson

CHARLOTTE (USA TODAY) - The 2008 candidate of hope and change asked Americans Thursday to stay the course.

Older, wiser, and definitely grayer, President Obama picked up where senator Barack Obama left off in Denver four years ago when he said government "should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work."

His record on that score remains incomplete. But he urged Americans - particularly those who helped him reach the White House- to turn their hope into faith and their desire for change into persistence.

"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," Obama said in prepared remarks released ahead of his speech.

In the last nationally televised speech of his last election campaign, the 51-year-old president proudly defended his record and denounced his Republican opponents' platform. And he devoted much of his address to his vision for the future.

Where his wife, Michelle, spoke from the heart Tuesday night and his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, from the head a night later, Obama spoke from his gut. And his gut told him the choice between himself and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney represents "a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future."

"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," he planned to say.

Unlike many of Obama's soaring speeches, however, this one included the outlines of a second-term agenda. As a result, it reflected Mario Cuomo's admonition that "you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose."

Obama's prose came in the form of a five-point plan: to rally the country around new goals in education, energy, manufacturing, national security and deficit reduction. Rather than propose new initiatives, however, the goals were mostly retreads and the means of achieving them elusive.

Where Romney spoke in generalities last week in Tampa, Obama sought specifics and set timetables: Doubling exports by 2014. Creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs by 2016. Cutting net oil imports in half by 2020. Cutting the growth of college tuition in half by 2022. Slashing $4 trillion from federal deficits over the next decade.

Obama was expected to single out the administration's foreign policy achievements, from ending the war in Iraq to killing Osama bin Laden. By contrast, his campaign aides noted that Romney never mentioned the sacrifice of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan during his speech last week.

It was a long way from June 3, 2008, when Obama locked up the Democratic nomination over Hillary Rodham Clinton and called it a moment "when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."

Romney, who joked about that comment in his acceptance speech, was no more impressed with Obama's new agenda. "We want a report on the promises he made," he said.

For Obama, it's been a rocky path to renomination. His major legislative achievements - an $831 billion economic stimulus package, health care overhaul and rewrite of Wall Street regulations - passed over broad Republican opposition.

The president's path didn't get any easier at the convention for the man known as no-drama Obama: He had to intercede to insert references to God and Jerusalem into the party platform. He had to give up a repeat performance at an outdoor football stadium akin to 2008 because of threatened thunderstorms. And as a result of the last-minute switch ... no balloon drop.

It all left Obama some fence-mending to do with his own volunteers, thousands of whom got a remote conference call with the president instead of an up-close-and-personal acceptance speech at Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL's Carolina Panthers.

"We can't let a little thunder and lightning get us down. We're going to have to roll with it," he said on the call.

"This is still going to be a very close election," he said. "The good thing is, I've got you. I really need your help, guys. I need you to disprove the cynics one more time."

'Rhetoric is cheap'

Nor was it clear that Obama's convention and acceptance speech would produce the bounce in public opinion polls his campaign hoped they would.

He spoke on a hopeful day for Democrats: The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 13,292, its highest level since Dec. 28, 2007. But less than 10 hours after he left the stage, the Labor Department was set to issue its latest monthly jobs report - almost certain to show unemployment above 8% for the 43rd straight month.

Without a pause, Obama was to leave North Carolina this morning for a three-day campaign swing to New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida. Next week, he'll visit Colorado and Nevada.

Republicans will be nipping at his heels. "When the speeches are done and this convention is over ... the voters are going to decide who's got the best ideas," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell at the Republicans' "war room" in Charlotte. "Results matter. Rhetoric is cheap."

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