By Samuel P. Jacobs
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Casting President Barack Obama as a decisive leader with a starkly superior vision for the United States than his Republican rival, Democratic Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday accepted his party's nomination for re-election.
Drawing on his experience working 30 steps away from Obama's Oval Office, Biden used his acceptance speech to outline sharp contrasts between the president and Republican Mitt Romney, whom Obama faces in the November 6 election.
Obama "has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and a spine of steel," Biden said in a speech that offered an intimate view of his boss and an argument for why Romney's experience as a successful private equity executive at Bain Capital should disqualify him from filling Obama's shoes.
"Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits," Biden said. "But it's not the way to lead our country from the highest office."
At its heart, Biden's boisterous, populist speech was an elaboration on the line that he has turned into his signature during the campaign: "Osama bin Laden is dead. General Motors is alive."
Biden held up Obama's decision to rescue the automobile industry through a government loan as an example of the president's resolve, and a path that Romney would not have followed.
Similarly, Biden questioned whether Obama's decision to go after bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, attacks, as a course that Romney would have rejected.
"The two men seeking to lead this country over the next four years ... have fundamentally different visions, and completely different values," Biden said.
Continuing a major theme of the three-day convention, Biden said the Obama administration's efforts are a work in progress that have set the United States in the right direction after a devastating recession that was unfolding when the president took office in January 2009.
"We are on our way," Biden said.
Biden also chided Romney for failing to mention the Afghanistan war when the former Massachusetts governor accepted the Republican presidential nomination last week in Tampa, Florida.
Biden concluded his speech with a tribute to fallen and injured soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. The often emotional vice president grew teary-eyed as he recounted their sacrifice.
BIDEN'S IMPORTANCE TO OBAMA
Biden's freewheeling speaking style sometimes leads to gaffes. Last month, he said that Romney's financial policies would put people in "chains" - making the 69-year-old a favorite target for attacks by the Romney campaign.
For the Obama campaign, that risk is mitigated by the reward of having Biden, a natural politician with working-class roots who is at ease in diners and fire houses, supporting the president's message on the road.
Biden's approachability contrasts with Obama's personal style, often lampooned as professorial and aloof.
Throughout the spring and summer, Biden has been dispatched to speak before ethnic organizations and blue-collar crowds.
The White House hopes Biden's talents courting white, working-class voters will benefit the president in the nation's manufacturing states like Ohio and Iowa, where Obama has had difficulty attracting traditional Democratic support.
The decision to place former President Bill Clinton in television's prime-time hour Wednesday night overshadowed Biden with his party's most popular figure, and gave the vice president a diminished role at the convention.
Although slated to end his address before the national television audience tuned in on Thursday at 10 p.m. EDT, Biden's 38-minute speech bled into the hour covered by the major TV networks.
Romney's campaign responded to Biden's criticism by saying that the Obama administration has failed to live up to its promise to aid working-class families.
"Tonight, Vice President Joe Biden is doubling down on the president's out-of-touch rhetoric, arguing that despite chronic unemployment and a shrinking middle class, 'America has turned the corner,'" said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg.
While Republicans caricature Biden as something of a goofy uncle in the White House, Obama's administration has stressed the vice president's central role as a decision-maker and architect of policy.
A Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday found that 38 percent of respondents use negative terms to describe Biden while 23 percent use positive ones.
Despite those numbers, Biden supporters say he is most fit to articulate Obama's vision for the country.
"He is the best person to explain why Barack Obama should be re-elected," said Ted Kaufman, a friend and former Biden chief of staff. "He gives the best argument on the personal qualities of Obama."
In his speech Thursday, Biden said that he and Obama have become particularly close during their time in office.
"One of the things that I learned is the enormity of his heart," Biden said of Obama. "And I think he has learned of the depth of my loyalty."
In turn, when he came to the stage on Thursday, Obama called Biden, "the very best vice president I could hope for" and "a strong and loyal friend."
(Editing by David Lindsey and Doina Chiacu)