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Opinion: Obama aiming to defy history

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — He certainly won't be trotting out those Greek columns this time, but now President Obama can't even keep his ambitious plans to address 75,000 people in an outdoor arena — too many storm clouds are gathering.

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It isn't just the weather. Two months to the day after President Obama accepts his party's nomination for reelection, he will try to defy history and win the presidency with unemployment at 8.4 percent, hoping voters have accepted a "new normal." Just hours after his now-indoor nomination speech, Obama will have to explain away another employment report, released Friday morning, that by all indications is expected to be less than encouraging. And as they kicked off their convention here in Charlotte and the national debt hit a new record at $16 trillion, Democrats have begun to worry about their campaign going broke as they learned Mitt Romney had raised $100 million in August.

Everyone has their game face on, though. Following Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) admission this last weekend on CBS News that no, he didn't think Americans are better off than they were four years ago, Democrats downloaded the Obama campaign talking points en masse; everywhere you go in the Queen City, they will tell you gleefully that we are all far better off than we were four years ago. They cite the loss of more than half a million jobs each month at the time Americans chose Obama as their next president and the 29 consecutive months of job growth that followed. They describe the depths of the recession that Obama inherited and the scant cooperation the Congress, particularly Republicans, have offered him in digging us out of the economic hole we fell into four years ago.

But Democrats are keenly aware that President Obama, in this economy, is just lucky — thus far — to have kept the race to a draw. According to a new poll for The Hill, a majority of voters say Obama doesn't deserve a second term, with 52 percent of respondents saying the country is in "worse condition" than it was in back in September of 2008. It's easy to see why the few remaining "persuadable" voters don't buy that argument, and after another two unsatisfactory job reports in early October and on Friday, Nov. 2, they might just be persuaded to choose Romney.

There is no doubt the Democrats who are here want to feel good again, and Michelle Obama, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and many others have made them feel good enough to openly weep. Former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel credited President Obama with reforming the health insurance system, revitalizing the auto industry, ending the war in Iraq, reining in Wall Street excess and reforming the education system. Each action represented, Emanuel said, "the change we believed in, the change we fought for and the change President Obama delivered."

But with fewer dollars, a poor economy and a bunch of broken promises to defend, it won't be easy to make the "better off" argument to their friends and neighbors this fall. The hope that was the hallmark of Obama's first campaign and of his early days in office is long gone. Just a few weeks into his presidency, Obama told NBC's "Today" show that if he didn't fix the economy in three years, his presidency would be "a one-term proposition." That same month he pledged, at the fiscal-responsibility summit at the White House, to reduce the then-$1.3 trillion deficit by half in his term — yet the sum has now climbed to $1.17 trillion and the president failed to come anywhere near keeping his promise. When asked about it earlier this year, he said he couldn't pay down the deficit because the recession was so much worse than they initially understood.

So Democrats, and any other voters who are listening, should be ready to hear from the president Thursday just how truly bad things were when he started his job and how much better they are now that he's had four years. He will ask for the four more years he thinks it will take to finish the job. And if Americans elect him again, our old normal is definitely gone for good.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.