What a difference four years makes.
In the summer of 2008, some 75,000 fervent, fainting fans, the largest crowd yet in the campaign season, attended a rally in Oregon for presidential candidate Barack Obama. And plans already were underway for an historic acceptance speech with much pomp and circumstance amongst the Greek columns at Invesco Field in Denver, dubbed the “Temple of Obama” by John McCain’s campaign. Folks clamored to be seen with the junior senator from Illinois—then.
Today, the man and the brand look fatigued. While two-thirds of likely voters say President Obama has kept his 2008 campaign promise to change America, a majority say it’s changed for the worse. And a growing list of Democrats in Congress are distancing themselves from the incumbent, declining the opportunity to be seen with him at this year’s Democratic National Convention in North Carolina.
Ironically, back in 2008, it was incumbent George W. Bush who was so dissed. With 43’s popularity lagging, Sen. McCain and GOP members of Congress distanced themselves from President Bush in public, though they still relied upon him to raise more than $138 million quietly, beyond the public’s eye. And in 2000, though Al Gore avoided incumbent Bill Clinton like the plague, President Clinton was still popular, holding 202 fundraisers during his last year in office and campaigning for his party’s congressional candidates.
But not all has changed. Four years ago the number one issue on voters’ minds: the economy. And today, it’s still “the economy, stupid.”
Then, GOP presidential candidate McCain struggled to find the right economic message. His “fundamentals of the economy are strong” remark, meant to reassure an anxious public reeling from the 2008 financial meltdown, was jumped upon by the Obama campaign, saying it showed McCain was out of touch with the realities of American life.
Fast forward to today, and it is Obama who can’t get the message right. Off-script comments like “the private sector is doing fine” and “it’s still tough out there" seem to reveal some distance from the realities Americans are facing, especially with another month of lousy job numbers.
Yet, Mitt Romney has failed to campaign aggressively and with specificity on what should be his forte–managing an economic turnaround. Team Obama’s ads have been incredibly negative in attacking Romney’s business record, and Romney has been incredibly passive.
The “O-cropolis” and the economy are crumbling. Confidence is shaken. Faux styrofoam columns and promises of hope are not what voters are looking for this time around. Americans are longing for the return of a Rocky to run up the steps of America’s Parthenon—battered but triumphant and ready to fight for them.
No more banter from Obama, no more rope-a-dope from Romney. The bell is about to ring. One of them needs to prove he has the reach and the right ideas to fight for America’s future.