COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last campaign got the glory. This one is the grind.
For all the many ways that President Barack Obama's bid for a second term is different from his first, the one that stands out now is the feel at the finish.
The crowds are behind him, but this is not the 2008 "Fired Up, Ready To Go!"
Obama's admonition to supporters might as well be turned around - be ready to go, or I may get fired.
"There are times where you just have to grind it out, because it's hard," Obama told wealthy donors at a softly lit dinner in Los Angeles, speaking almost quietly even with a microphone in his hand. "It's hard work bringing about change."
On Obama's trail, the current narrative is about his strangely listless appearance in last week's debate. Yes, it left a major impression on the race, and given the enormous TV audience that saw it, Obama chose a bad day to have a bad day.
Yet Obama has also turned in upbeat appearances since then, revving up one late-night concert-hall crowd to the point of screams. He has found peace in the company of longtime friends traveling with him on Air Force One, and energy from teenagers just waiting to shake his hand, and glee in improvising ways to mock Republican rival Mitt Romney for targeting Big Bird.
Despite his trademark steadiness, Obama tends to turn in campaign performances that mirror the crowd and the setting. There is no one feel. He soaks up enthusiasm and shares it back when the audience is rocking, yet he can seem flat if his listeners are.
The more representative feel of life around Obama is the determined, difficult lift of everything he wants to do.
It was telling that his convention speech was remarkably short on inspiration, emphasizing instead that he offered voters a hard path, but one that would lead the country to a better place.
His message in rallies and fundraisers is no different.
"I always said that change takes time," he said. "We always said that it would take more than one term. ... And by the way, no, it doesn't just take me. That's not the deal. The deal is it takes all of us."