CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - President Barack Obama makes his argument for re-election on Thursday in a high-profile closing act at the Democratic National Convention that he will use to spell out his plans to revitalize the stumbling U.S. economy.
Obama gives his acceptance speech for his party's presidential nomination in a much smaller venue than planned, the 20,000-seat Time Warner Cable Arena, after the threat of severe weather forced a move from a 74,000-seat outdoor football stadium.
He has a hard act to follow in President Bill Clinton, who took on challenger Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans in a detailed attack on Wednesday night that ignited the arena.
Under pressure to tell Americans how he will create jobs, Obama will lay out his vision for a second White House term in the nationally televised address that will be watched by tens of millions of people.
"The president now has an opportunity to talk about how we lift the country, how we rebuild the middle class, the things we have to do together to achieve the kind of future that people are looking for," senior adviser David Axelrod said on MSNBC.
Vice President Joe Biden will also speak on the final night of a three-day convention that marks the start of the fall campaign season with the two White House contenders locked in a tight race.
Clinton galvanized Democrats on Wednesday with a hearty defense of Obama's efforts to repair the economic "mess" inflicted by what Clinton said were misguided Republican policies of deregulation and huge tax cuts for the wealthy.
The two men hugged on stage after the speech, as Obama hoped to cash in on the former president's popularity and benefit from his ability to plainly summarize complicated policy arguments.
"These speeches are all of a piece. We're telling a story here," senior adviser David Plouffe said on NBC's "Today" show.
"I think President Clinton laid out very powerfully the president's record and the choice in this election," he said. "The president obviously tonight is going to talk about his record but (also) the path in front of the country."
Obama and Romney have been running roughly even in polls before the November 6 election as Obama struggles to make his case for re-election amid a tepid economic recovery and persistent high unemployment of 8.3 percent.
Obama has trailed Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who emphasizes his business background as head of a private equity fund, in many polls on the question of who would best handle the economy.
'TIGHT AS A TICK'
An address by first lady Michelle Obama also energized the convention and lit up social media on Tuesday night.
But Plouffe played down expectations for a big boost in polls from the Democratic gathering.
"We think we're making a lot of progress this week, but again you're not going to see big bounces in this election," Plouffe said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I think for the next 61 days it's going to remain tight as a tick."
The switch in venue for Thursday's speech froze out tens of thousands of Obama supporters who had planned to attend the stadium speech, although watch parties were being organized nationally and around the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Convention officials were trying to retain much of Thursday night's schedule, including some of the musical acts like the Foo Fighters. Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, wounded in a 2011 shooting, will lead the Pledge of Allegiance on Thursday, Roll Call reported.
Clinton set the stage for Obama with an address that directly responded to Republican questions about whether Americans are better off than they were when Obama took office.
"No president - not me or anyone before me - no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years," Clinton said of the economy Obama inherited from Republican President George W. Bush.
"But conditions are improving, and if you'll renew the president's contract you will feel it," he said.
The speech was vintage Clinton as he frequently left the prepared text for digressions on topics including George Washington's false teeth. His attacks on Romney were made more effective by his praise for other Republicans including Bush and former President Ronald Reagan.
Clinton criticized Romney, as well as his running mate, Paul Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, for backing the overhaul of the Medicare health program for seniors.
"If he's elected and he does what he promised to do, then Medicare will go broke in 2016," Clinton said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Alistair Bell and Doina Chiacu)