"Part of what makes it a close election is the economy is still tough for a lot of folks," Obama told USA Today in an interview published Tuesday. "When you present my ideas and Gov. Romney's ideas to people and say which are the better ideas, my ideas win out, [but] they're also looking at the reality of the unemployment rate, still above 8 percent, and that makes people anxious."
In his last campaign stop prior to the convention, the president addressed a rally Tuesday at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., delivering what has become his standard campaign speech and promising supporters his acceptance speech Thursday at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., will "offer what I believe is a better path forward -- a path that will create good jobs and strengthen our middle class and grow our economy."
Following the rally in Virginia -- where 13 electoral votes are at stake in November -- the president returned to the White House, where he said he will watch first lady Michelle Obama's speech at the convention Tuesday night.
"Now, I know that whatever I say here today, it's going to be, at best, a distant second to the speech you will hear tonight from the star of the Obama family, Michelle Obama."
The president's motorcade after the rally in Virginia stopped at a Norfolk fire station where Obama spoke briefly with several firefighters and a battalion chief.
When he showed them a bottle of the beer he brews at the White House and said he would give them a case, one firefighter asked, "Should we wait until tomorrow to drink it?"
"I don't want to get you into trouble with the chief," Obama said.
The president asked whether the station has all the equipment it needs and the battalion chief said, "Sometimes we do."
The president told USA Today his acceptance speech will address how the country can "continue on a path that will lead us to a strong, secure middle class, robust economic growth, and a sense that our government is working on behalf of ordinary people to make sure everybody gets a fair shot, everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same set of rules."
Obama must balance the 2008 themes of "hope" and "change" -- which Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his surrogates have been ridiculing -- with the 2012 theme of "Forward," presenting the case that progress has made during his first term while recognizing the recovery has left the nation still reeling from high unemployment and a dismal housing market, analysts said.
He told USA Today he plans to outline "concrete plans" voters want to hear.
"Well, obviously, we've gone through four years that have been very tough," Obama said. "The American people know me at this point much more. They know my strengths. I'm sure they know my weaknesses -- and if they aren't familiar with them, the other side will be happy to point them out."
Most of all, he said he will point up the differences between his proposals and ones presented by Romney, casting the election "as clear a choice as we've seen, in my mind, between two fundamentally different visions for our future."
The problem with Romney is that "the ideas he presents are not ones that are going to solve our problems," Obama told the newspaper. "The American people know that ... and it's that choice that I think will end up driving this election."
Obama said the Romney campaign is using questionable talking points -- such as a charge, debunked by Factcheck.org and other independent analysts, that Obama gutted the work requirement in the 1996 welfare law -- as the core of its campaign and as a key element of last week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Obama said his opponents "spent a lot of time creating a fictional Barack Obama who is supposedly taking the work out of welfare reform or doesn't think small businesses built their own businesses."
Romney spent the convention "talking about himself and he spent a lot of time talking about me. He didn't spend a lot of time talking about the American people and how their lives will get better," Obama said. "I guess their premise is that the American people will be convinced, if we just get rid of Obama, then somehow that will be enough."
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told USA Today Obama was "desperately trying to convince voters that they are better off than they were four years ago, but the opposite is true."