President Barack Obama addresses supporters today at Mentor High School… (Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo )
MENTOR, Ohio — In the bitter final days of the campaign, “hope” and “change” are making a comeback – at least in President Obama’s closing argument.
As he crisscrosses the Midwestern battlegrounds in his shirt sleeves, Obama is firing up supporters with the rallying cry of his 2008 campaign that has not been a major theme of his stump speech for months.
INTERACTIVE: Predict a winner in the battleground states
Republicans are “betting on cynicism,” Obama told a crowd here Saturday, where he declared “my bet is on hope.” The word “change” appeared in his morning speech almost two dozen times.
The return to the theme strikes some Republicans as ironic, in light of an off-the-cuff line Obama threw into the stump speech on Friday. When the crowd began to boo Romney, Obama urged them, as he frequently does, not to boo but to vote – adding, in a new variation, that “voting is the best revenge.”
“His real message comes out when he’s off the cuff,” said Kirsten Kukowski of the Republican National Committee.
Still, Obama’s intended message is hitting home with his intended audience as his rhetorical arc bends back to its origins. “We know what change is,” he said Saturday, his voice hoarse as a crowd in a high school gym thundered its applause. “We know what the future requires.”
Since they ushered Obama into office, hope and change have taken a beating. Hard economic times, intransigence in Washington and political acrimony made it easy to mock the promises of 2008.
“How’s that hopey-changey stuff workin’ out for ya?” former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin asked two years after her GOP ticket lost. “Keep the change” bumper stickers proliferated.
Obama resurrected the idea in his reelection kickoff, telling early supporters that nothing is more powerful than voices calling for change, but then he set about preaching a workmanlike message.
ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE: Ask the Times
He railed against Republican economic and social ideals. He touted specific accomplishments, tailoring speeches for targeted demographics.
But even before Republican Mitt Romney began talking about the “big change” he would bring to Washington, Obama and his speechwriters were planning to return to the overarching message.
When he did, the nature of change had clearly changed a bit, defined now partly by what Romney says and does. Cutting taxes for the wealthy, withholding policy details and siding with the right wing of the party don’t constitute change, Obama says.
“In this campaign, he’s tried as hard as he can to repackage these bad ideas and offer them up as change,” Obama said of Romney on Saturday. “Now suddenly he’s the candidate of change. But we know what change looks like, and what he’s trying to sell, that ain’t it.”
Since he unveiled his closing argument on the road Thursday, the reviews have been mixed.
“There’s a lot of ‘hope and change’ back in his remarks that don’t acknowledge the reality of how he’s governed the past four years,” said Kukowski. “Basically, after four years, they are just words.”
Longtime supporters love it, though.
“What he was saying in 2008 still holds today,” said Mary H. Richardson, a retiree and Obama volunteer who attended the rally in Mentor. “Everything he said he was going to do, he did. But we still need hope, and we still need change.”
If the vintage material fires up volunteers like Richardson, that serves Obama’s purpose. The election may well come down to a razor-thin margin in this all-important swing state, with the better volunteer-powered turnout operation winning the day.
Many of those volunteers are veterans of 2008. Now the closing exhortation sounds remarkably like the one Obama gave Ohio during the closing of the last presidential campaign.
“Ohio, my bet is on you,” he said. “My bet is on hope. My bet is on the decency and goodness of the American people, and my fight is for you.”
Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook