(Adds Melania Trump, end of second convention night)
By John Whitesides and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Republicans pressed their case on Tuesday for U.S. President Donald Trump's re-election over Democrat Joe Biden, arguing that Trump's leadership was crucial to revitalize the economy and preserve religious freedom.
On the second day of their convention, Republicans sought to reshape the narrative around the economy, largely ignoring millions of jobs lost to the coronavirus pandemic, which has cost more than 177,000 Americans their lives.
But capping the evening, first lady Melania Trump acknowledged the pain caused by the pandemic during an address to a crowd seated in the White House Rose Garden. Her husband sat in the front row.
"My husband's administration will not stop fighting until there is an effective treatment or vaccine available to everyone. Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic," Melania Trump said.
An array of officials and everyday Americans cited Trump's efforts to loosen economic regulations, put "America First" in trade deals and support religious freedom as reasons to back him in the Nov. 3 election against Biden, Barack Obama's former vice president.
"Our economic choice is very clear. Do you want economic health, prosperity, opportunity and optimism, or do you want to turn back to the dark days of stagnation, recession and pessimism?" White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said.
Opinion polls show voters view Trump as strong on the economy despite the job losses during the pandemic.
John Peterson, who owns a Wisconsin metal fabrication business, said his company had struggled under Obama and Biden because of heavy federal regulation.
"We scrapped and clawed and hung on with everything we had for two years. And then everything changed. Because Donald Trump was elected president. He knew what it was like to build a company and to create jobs for American workers," he said.
The tone at times echoed Monday's opening day, when Republicans reached out to solidify their core support by painting a dire portrait of a future America under Biden's leadership.
Cissie Graham Lynch, granddaughter of the late evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, said a Biden presidency would leave "no room for people of faith." Biden is Catholic, and his faith was highlighted at last week's convention.
Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic former Indiana mayor who ran for president before endorsing Biden, challenged that characterization on Twitter, recalling a walk Trump took to a nearby church during protests outside the White House to hold up a Bible for photographers.
"They would speak of faith? The choice here is so simple. One man waves a borrowed Bible around, the other actually reads it," Buttigieg tweeted.
A businessman and former reality-TV-star-turned-politician, Trump arranged for several made-for-television moments.
In an appeal to Black voters that touted his criminal justice bill despite pushing a law-and-order message and tough-on-crime policies, Trump in a video also issued a pardon to a convicted Nevada bank robber, Jon Ponder, a Black man who has become an advocate for other inmates.
"Jon's life is a beautiful testament to the power of redemption," Trump said in the video before signing the pardon.
Trump, assailed by rights activists for immigration policies that have included separating families at the southern border with Mexico, appeared in a video leading a naturalization ceremony for five immigrants becoming U.S. citizens.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking from a Jerusalem rooftop with the city lights visible in the background, praised a recent deal to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
He also highlighted the 2018 move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which was popular with American evangelicals - a critical part of Trump's core support.
"This president has led bold initiatives in nearly every corner of the world," said Pompeo, believed to be weighing a run for the White House in 2024.
Another person who had been expected to speak to the convention was Mary Ann Mendoza, whose police officer son died in a head-on collision with a drunk driver who was in the country illegally. The Trump campaign said she was pulled from the program after tweeting a link to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. She later apologized.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminded voters that Biden had voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq when he served in the U.S. Senate.
"I fear Biden will choose war again. He supported war in Serbia, Syria and Libya. Joe Biden will continue to spill our blood and treasure. President Trump will bring our heroes home," Paul said.
Trump's son Eric said Biden was a career politician who knew nothing about running a company or the government and told voters: "My father will continue to fight for you."
With 70 days remaining until the Nov. 3 election, Biden, 77, who served as vice president under Barack Obama, leads Trump, 74, in opinion polls. Democrats nominated Biden to challenge Trump at their party's convention last week.
Melania Trump's remarks and the speech by Pompeo, from a diplomatic trip to Israel, were criticized by Democrats.
They questioned the propriety of using the presidential residence for political purposes and of Pompeo making a political speech while on a government trip. Trump himself will deliver a speech from the White House lawn on Thursday.
Pompeo had warned diplomats in July that presidential appointees should not take part in partisan activity, in a cable sent to all U.S. diplomatic and consular posts abroad.
The Trump campaign has shrugged off complaints about the use of federal properties as a partisan stage, and said it would ensure all staff and participants were in compliance with the 1939 Hatch Act restricting federal employees from engaging in certain political activities but which exempts the president.
A total of 17 million people watched the Republican convention's first night on Monday, according to Nielsen, fewer than the 19.7 million TV viewers who watched the first night of the Democratic National Convention last week.
(Reporting by John Whitesides and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Jason Lange, Doina Chiacu and Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Howard Goller)
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