President Obama arrives on stage for a campaign event at City Park in Denver. (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)
The President Obama who greets voters during his current 48-hour campaign blitz bears some resemblance to candidate Barack Obama of four years ago. Only the 2012 model is grayer, more cautious and sounds more world-weary. The most pronounced difference, though, might be in the crowds that receive him.
On Wednesday, the president began his two-day tour in front of 3,500 supporters in eastern Iowa. He tried to pump up the volume by telling the faithful that they were entering the stretch drive and he needed every vote. “We’re going to pull an all-nighter. No sleep!”
Twenty days out from election day in 2008, Sen. Barack Obama faced quite a different scene. He stood in front of 30,000 people gathered in a park on the Miami waterfront. His mere appearance on stage had the crowd rocking — women waving their arms, men shouting praise and hundreds of cameras flashing.
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Although political reporters are taught not to read too much into crowd sizes (big crowds are said to measure depth of support among true believers, not breadth of support across the electorate), it was hard not to think Obama had something big going back then. By the time he arrived in Miami, two weeks before election day, he had already drawn 50,000 people in Orlando, 75,000 in Kansas City and 100,000 in St. Louis. Those rallies packed additional meaning because they came in states — Florida and Missouri — normally seen, at best, as tossups between the two parties.
By this time in 2008, enthusiasm had gotten high enough that Obama’s campaign team worried about appearing overconfident. Rather than rally another huge group of supporters earlier on the day of that Miami love-in, they instead convened an economic forum. More than 1,000 people and a huge press cadre sat through the session in a sweltering gym, in part just to show that Team Obama knew there was still serious business at hand.
The fading hopes of Republican nominee John McCain could also be plainly seen two weeks out in 2008. The U.S. senator from Arizona campaigned in Pennsylvania, a state that pretty clearly would go to Obama.
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He continued to traverse the Keystone state, a little sadly, when polls showed he faced a double-digit deficit there. So many traditionally Republican states were already slipping away that McCain's advisors thought they had no choice.
Inspiration and desperation filled the air for the last two weeks of 2008. Two weeks out this time around, neither Team Obama nor Team Romney can afford such big emotions. That will make for a grinding final push to election day, with high anxiety in both camps all the way.
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