Obama hits final stretch with message of gravitas

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev.--Gone are the jokes about "Romnesia" and the loose talk of a "campaign marathon extravaganza." For Barack Obama, the president of a nation reeling from a storm that devastated the Eastern Seaboard, it's time for gravitas.

Standing in front of a skyline of red mountains not far from the College of Southern Nevada, Obama's election address sounded more like the speeches he delivered when he campaigned for president four years ago. His original message of hope and compromise, subdued by four years of a stubbornly high unemployment rate and partisan gridlock, re-emerged Thursday.

"We don't need a big government agenda or a small government agenda. We need a middle-class agenda," Obama said Thursday, echoing a line he used in his inaugural address in 2008.

While almost all of his speeches before superstorm Sandy were filled with direct mentions of his GOP challenger, the president mentioned Mitt Romney by name only once during the speech. Obama chose instead to refer to Romney as "my opponent," "the governor," or "the guy who's running for president right now." He also sought to reclaim the word "change" as his own, hammering Romney as a president who would return to policies embraced by former President George W. Bush.

"In the closing weeks of this campaign, Gov. Romney's been using all his talents as a salesman to dress up the very same policies that failed our country so badly," Obama said. "With a straight face he's offering them up as change. He's saying he's the candidate of change. Now, let me tell you, Nevada, we know what change looks like. And what the governor's offering sure ain't change."

The speech suggested that Obama was transforming his rally persona from a wise-cracking pol to Commander-in-Chief facing Serious Times.

The crowd, however, was ready to party.

About 4,500 supporters had gathered to hear the president at the outdoor Cheyenne Sports Complex here, grooving to a warm-up funk band beneath the warm desert sun. About an hour before Obama spoke, the band played the gospel worship song "All Around," replacing the parts where the singer usually says "Lord" with "Obama" as the crowd danced and cheered on the grass below the stage.

Eva Longoria, actress and a chairwoman of the Obama campaign, made a stop at the rally to urge supporters to vote, preferably early if they could.

In the background, campaign signs that read "FORWARD!" AND "VOTE EARLY" with the official campaign insignia in place as the "O," bordered the field where the president spoke.

This will be Obama's final trip to the Silver State, which both campaigns believe they have a chance to win. Romney dispatched his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, to speak in Reno on the same day.