Obama: From hope and change to change and hope for the best

President Obama’s campaign has gone from hope and change to change and hope. 

He wants to change the conversation to what the Republicans are saying and hope voters find him to be the lesser of two evils. 

David Axelrod and Obama’s Chicago team are working overtime to make this election a choice between Obama and the other guy. They couldn’t even wait for a nominee, and have already targeted GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in weekly conference calls. 

Obama’s trip to Nevada on Monday put on full display what the entire 2012 campaign will look like.

It wasn’t sexy, and it probably went unnoticed by most, but in broad strokes — minus a third-party candidate, millions of dollars and moments that will likely turn the stomachs of most Americans — Monday was a snapshot of what 2012 will look like.

It was Obama, in a critical swing state decimated by a crippled economy, going on offense in an area where his policies have failed.

It was, in a nutshell, Obama and his campaign praying voters look at what Romney said about home foreclosures — and not at what Obama’s administration has actually done to soften the mortgage crisis. 

It was the beginning of a long effort by Obama’s Chicago team to make the race as much about Obama’s opponent as it will be about the president’s economic record. 

It was a day in the life of a candidate who is running to win without a winning record on which to run. 

The president’s day began in Washington, where he awoke to a story in The Washington Post outlining just how bad his policies on housing have been. Perhaps skipping that morning reading, Obama flew to Las Vegas, where the percentage of home foreclosures is the highest in the land.

Romney was only too happy to welcome Obama to Nevada. His campaign quickly released a Web video in which a number of Nevadans hurt by the economy offered their unfavorable take on the Obama White House.

It’s probably a safe bet they didn’t have to look far for actors in a state where unemployment is 4 points higher than the national average.

But Romney was hamstrung by something he had said earlier in the month, when he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that home foreclosures should be allowed to run their course and “hit the bottom.”

With that, the Republican gave Obama an opening. 

Obama is the president, and while he inherited a nightmare economy, the voters don’t care. It’s his economy. He needs something or someone to run against.

With Romney’s “hit the bottom” comment, Obama’s campaign had a target. 

“It’s no surprise that in his attack on the president today, Mitt Romney failed to mention his housing plan. Rather than help responsible homeowners who were scammed by lenders refinance like the president has, Romney believes the foreclosure process should ‘hit the bottom’ so that lenders can come in and make a quick buck,” an Obama campaign official said.

Romney can expect the same attacks in Michigan and the Midwest when it comes to autos. Romney was against the bailout. Team Obama sees the auto industry’s tentative recovery as an asset.

In both cases, Obama’s campaign will be sending this message: that whatever one thinks of the president’s policies, they are better than Romney’s. 

That’s hardly the inspirational stuff of 2008, but 2012 will be a grind.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza summed it up nicely Monday afternoon on CNN.

The retiring congressman accused the administration of “neglect” on the housing crisis, saying Obama had “good intentions” and “talked a good game.”

“In my opinion, this is the administration’s biggest failure,” Cardoza said. 

And he’s a California Democrat.

Moments later, Cardoza articulated the conclusion Team Obama needs voters across the country to reach: “I’ll vote for the president next election. I hope he wins, because the alternatives are much worse.”

Right now, Obama is “in the bad position of running against the ghost of FDR on the left and the ghost of Ronald Reagan on the right,” one Democratic strategist noted. 

He needs a flesh-and-blood specter, somebody Chicago can make to look much scarier than a ghost. 

So for the next year, when the spotlight beams on Obama’s record and 9 percent unemployment, expect to hear the president and his aides talk about their Republican opponent.

It’s not pretty, but at this point, Romney is about all Obama’s got.

Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill. Find his column, Obama’s Bid for Reelection, on thehill.com.