Charlotte, North Carolina, (AFP) – President Barack Obama faced a high bar Thursday to better speeches by his wife and by Bill Clinton, as he prepared to ask Americans for four more years in his big convention address.
Obama was due to step to the podium in a riot of noise, color and Democratic Party euphoria for what may prove his best chance to convince Americans that he deserves a second and final term despite widespread economic despair.
The prime time address comes with Obama locked in a too-close-to-call race with Republican Mitt Romney to November’s election, in a nation where the story of the lingering financial crisis is told by 8.3 percent unemployment.
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 that Romney’s policies would risk repeating the disaster.
He is also under pressure to lay out specifics, for the first time, 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 folks, after watching the speech tonight, will have a very clear sense of where he thinks the country needs to go economically, the path we need to take,” Obama’s senior advisor David Plouffe said on ABC News.
Democrats will devote a portion of Thursday’s program at the National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, 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 to kill Osama bin Laden last year will doubtless play a starring role, along with his successful implementation of a 2008 campaign vow to end the Iraq war.
Former Democratic nominee John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden will lead the 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.
Delegates were still buzzing Thursday after a tour de force address by former two-term Democratic president Clinton, who still has stellar approval ratings and 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 a sweeping and unequivocal embrace of Obama, laying to rest previous tensions.
“No president — not me or any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage he found in just four years,” Clinton said.
“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.
“You will feel it.
“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,” Clinton said, his voice faltering slightly. “With all my heart I believe it.”
After holding 15,000 of the Democratic faithful in Charlotte, North Carolina enthralled for over 45 minutes, Clinton was joined on stage by a smiling and energized Obama, leading to frenzied applause.
Republicans, perhaps realizing the folly of taking on Clinton, who has much higher approval ratings than either Romney or Obama, largely resisted the chance to criticize the Democratic elder statement.
But the Romney campaign did draw a 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.
“Bill Clinton worked with Republicans, balanced the budget, and after four years he could say you were better off.
“President Clinton’s speech brought the disappointment and failure of President Obama’s time in office clearly into focus.”
Democrats hope Obama’s arguments that the economy, while sluggish, is recovering, will not be undercut by the release on Friday of the latest Labor Department jobs figures, which if poor, could provide ammunition for Romney.
However, optimism blossomed Thursday that the numbers could exceed expectations, with the publication of the closely watched survey by payrolls firm ADP, which showed private-sector employment rose by 201,000 in August.
Obama will not, as his campaign hoped, be speaking to 70,000 people in an outdoor stadium in Charlotte. Organisers moved the speech inside fearing the huge set piece event could be disrupted by thunder.
The speech will close the three-day Democratic convention, which was highlighted on Tuesday by a powerful address lauding the character and leadership of the president by First Lady Michelle Obama.