That emboldened re-election outlook is coupled with a determination to stay above the day-to-day fighting and to keep the public with him.
In announcing a package of proposals this week to reduce gun violence, the president did what he could on his own, but also acknowledged that the most important provisions require congressional approval, and said it would take a demanding public to make that happen.
"His audience has become much more the American people than the people who live within the confines of Washington," says former Obama spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.
The Brookings Institution's William Galston, who served in the Clinton White House, says Obama seems to have concluded that "getting into the weeds is a mistake."
The way he handled the latest negotiations over taxes "might be seen as a new paradigm," Galston says. "The president is not spending a lot of time with his sleeves rolled up, face to face with people who disagree with him."
Nor is he making as many promises. After making more than 500 specific promises in his first campaign — more of them kept than broken — the president served up far fewer re-election pledges and has displayed a more measured view of what's possible.
He's a "happy warrior" the president says of himself, but he also admits to disappointment that he hasn't gotten more cooperation from Congress.
Some liberals who complained that the president wasn't tough enough in the first term look at his recent decision to give more ground than expected in extending Bush-era tax cuts to some wealthier Americans and wonder if he's really stiffened his spine for term two.
"The guy can't seem to help himself," says Norman Solomon, an activist on the left. "He swears off caving in like some people swear off smoking, and the next day you see another lethal product in his mouth."
The president's renewed determination to leverage public support appears to be coupled with a willingness by the no-drama president to show more emotion when matters of public policy are also personal to him.
Hours after the massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., a tearful Obama showed raw grief in his first comments on the attack. His temper flared after Republicans criticized U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice over the deaths of four Americans during an attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya, insisting her critics "should go after me" instead.
There's been less drama, though, within the president's staff. Former aides who describe the early years of his presidency as marked by personnel disagreements and internal strife say that dynamic has given way to a more cohesive Obama team with time.
There's been recent concern that the president's early choices for his second-term Cabinet and top advisers are less diverse than past personnel picks, and that he and his team are too insular. Give it time, says Obama, insisting he'll build a well-rounded team.
Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nbenac
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.