As sentimentality goes, President Barack Obama hosting the last campaign event of his political career in Des Moines, Iowa, is hard to top. The Hawkeye State launched the then-junior senator from Illinois to national prominence. And there is a movie script-like quality to having such a historic political trajectory emerge out of the frosty cornfields.
Speaking just steps from his 2008 caucus headquarters on Monday evening, it seemed at times as if the magic hadn't faded.
"I came back to ask you to help us finish what we started because this is where our movement for change began," Obama declared. "To all of you who’ve lived and breathed the hard work of change: I want to thank you. You took this campaign and made it your own ... starting a movement that spread across the country.
"When the cynics said we couldn't, you said yes we can. You said yes we can and we did. Against all odds, we did," he said.
Wiping the occasional tear from his eye, and looking over a crowd of 20,000, Obama concluded with the same story that he told on the last day of his '08 campaign: about the origins of his signature "fired-up-ready-to-go" chant. The arc of his first term in office was seemingly complete.
But if anything, the late night rally in Des Moines underscored how different Obama's first and second White House runs have been. For all its poignant undertones, Monday night marked the end of a campaign that had little of the emotional appeal of four years ago. There was no sweeping "hope" narrative, no history-making proposition, no shadows of the Bush years to escape. Instead there was a business-like approach to a daunting task: how to re-elect a president with a slate of accomplishments, but with reduced popularity, a poor economy and no novelty.
"The biggest difference between 2008 and 2012 is that the sense of the mission changed," said one Obama campaign adviser who, like nearly everyone, would discuss the campaign's inner workings only on condition of anonymity. "In 2008, there was the sense of optimism and hope around the mission -– of changing the world. In 2012, the mission is as much the clear-eyed recognition of how important stopping the other side is. It is a grimmer, more realistic sense of mission."
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