The public gives him worse grades on his handling of the economy. Yet more people than not like him personally.
Rarely part of the discussion: his race or his role as the nation's first black president.
"He has an acute sense of history. He wants to be remembered as a great president, not a civil rights icon," said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley of Rice University. "He wants to be an equal of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. He doesn't want a special nod to history because of race."
Right now he wants four more years.
Obama has conceded he has not changed the tone in Washington. And that, at times, he has lost a connection with the American people.
"The mistake of my first couple of years was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right," Obama said recently. "And that's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times."
Obama's campaign pitch this year could be ripped from the speech he gave on that Denver convention stage four years ago — essentially that government can help the middle class and support private industry and protect the hurting. He says Republicans favor an economic trickle-down approach that leaves people on their own.
Voters have two choices to make.
The first is whether to give Obama credit for economic progress. The other is whether they think he or Romney will lead the nation better going forward.
The economy weighs on Obama's chances. He is expected to face voters with the highest national unemployment rate of any president since the Great Depression. The jobless rate got as high as 10 percent in October 2009. It is now at is 8.3 percent, about where it was in his first full month in office.
The climb back remains enormous.
The nation lost 8.7 million jobs in the recession and its aftermath in 2008 and 2009. Since then, it has regained 3.9 million.
Obama once said, early in his term, that if the people were not feeling economic progress in three years, then he faced a "one-term proposition." Challenged about that this year, he said: "I deserve a second term, but we're not done."
Voters will soon decide.
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