By Gary Strauss, David Jackson, and Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
CHARLOTTE - President Obama's much-anticipated Democratic National Convention speech tonight is framed as a choice for voters "between two different paths for America."
"When you pick up that ballot to vote, you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation," Obama said in excerpts released ahead of the post 10 p.m. speech.
"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."
"On every issue, the choice you face won't be just between two candidates or two parties. two different paths for America. It will be a choice between two different paths for America. A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future."
Hollywood was part of the key warm-up acts Thursday night ahead of Obama's much-anticipated acceptance speech.
Actresses Eva Longoria, Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington are scheduled to speak, while the Foo Fighters are scheduled to perform. Marc Anthony sang the National Anthem, while James Taylor and Mary J. Blige followed.
Obama can use the star power. It will be a challenge for him to top the rousing performances of former president Bill Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama.
Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the Democratic convention and mayor of Los Angeles, suggested Thursday that Obama's track record would suffice, especially after Michelle Obama's prime-time speech Tuesday and Clinton's oratory Wednesday.
"President Obama has been given the baton, and I think he's going to get over the finish line tonight," Villaraigosa said at a USA TODAY Newsmakers session. "The president is going to make crystal clear the choices ahead."
Clinton delivered a folksy, eloquent argument for Obama's re-election, burnishing Obama's muddled track record on the economy and laying out a road map for the future. The former president was an adversary when his wife, Hillary, was Obama's chief rival in the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination. But Wednesday, Clinton appeared more like "first friend," receiving several standing ovations and raucous applause from a packed Time Warner Cable Arena crowd as he made the case for Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Over the past two days, there's been plenty of Romney-bashing by a stream of politicians, two retired CEOs, and ex-employees of companies controlled by Bain Capital, the private venture capital firm that made the GOP contender a multimillionaire. But Clinton made the convention's most compelling argument for Obama.
Speaking of the convention appearances by the first lady and former president, former Democratic Party chairman Ed Rendell said: "The beauty of Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton is they stoked the base.''
"His job is about passion," said Minnesota delegate Roxanne Mindeman. "He's preaching to the choir, but he needs the choir to be motivated."
Obama senior adviser David Plouffe said the president would give voters "a very clear sense of where he thinks the country needs to go economically, the path we need to take."
Appearing on morning talk shows, Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said Clinton's speech set out the economic choices, "so now the president can talk about the future having some of that underbrush out of the way."
Romney, expected to resume full-time campaigning in the next day or two, said he had no plans to watch tonight's speech. "If the president is going to report on the promises he made and how he has performed in those promises, I'd love to watch it,'' he said. "But if it's another series of new promises that he's not going to keep, I have no interest in seeing him because I saw the promises last time."
The president's speech was moved from cavernous outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the much smaller Time Warner arena because of forecasts of severe weather, disappointing thousands of Obama supporters who expected to attend.
In a Thursday afternoon conference call, Obama expressed regrets to supporters who will be shut out from the acceptance speech. "The problem was a safety issue," Obama said. "I couldn't ask you, volunteers, first responders ... to subject yourself to the risks of a severe thunderstorm."
The president also noted that many of the supporters, who earned tickets by volunteering for the campaign, may have traveled long distances to Charlotte at significant expense. "My main message is we can't let a little thunder and lightning get us down," said Obama, who encouraged displaced supporters to join convention-watch parties throughout the region. "We just got to roll with it."
Contributing: Aamer Madhani in Charlotte; the Associated Press