DES MOINES, Iowa -- On the final night of his campaign for reelection, President Barack Obama returned to Iowa, the state where his candidacy first took root more than four years ago.
The event had all the trappings of a typical Obama rally: American flags lined the risers above cheerful Democrats, generators hummed in the distance, powering the flood lights, and a crowd of 20,000 filled the boulevard that led to the Iowa state capital building. After a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, a performance by Bruce Springsteen and an introduction from his wife, Michelle, Obama approached the stage to the music of U2, just as he has done so many times before.
But this night, quite likely the final presidential rally of Obama's career, was different. The president appeared more patient and familiar, taking time to tell stories instead of repeating campaign slogans. His remarks retained the outline of his stump speech, but he devoted much of the night to reminiscing about his first campaign in 2008 and tried to re-energize his supporters with anecdotes from the past. While he spoke, a photographer captured a moment when a tear appeared to flow down his cheek.
"I came back to ask you to help us finish what we've started because this is where our movement for change began," Obama said, pointing behind him to the modest building that housed his first Iowa campaign office in 2008. "Right here."
The location is meaningful for the president. Before the Iowa caucuses of January 2008, Obama was seen as little more than a long shot challenger to then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose nomination seemed inevitable. But when Iowa Democrats visited their caucus sites, they chose Obama. The momentum would ultimately squeeze Clinton out of the lead and launch Obama on a journey that took him to the White House.
Four years later, after the first term of a presidency that pursued often divisive policies, Obama has returned to these Iowan stomping grounds--older and, admittedly, his hair grayer--to try and close the deal.
In his speech Monday, which went on longer than his usual campaign address, Obama recalled the earliest days of his first campaign. He paid homage to Edith S. Childs, a local councilwoman in South Carolina who was one of his earliest supporters and who coined the chant, "Fired up! Ready to go," which became a staple of his campaign in 2008.
He also reflected on his own presidency, conceding that he knew that his supporters sometimes found themselves "frustrated by the pace of change."
"I promise you," Obama told the crowd. "So have I."
It was all the more reason, Obama argued, to re-elect him. While the president did not once mention his opponent by name in this speech, he warned that "progress" would be lost and vowed to fight against "the status quo" in his second term.
Whether Americans will offer him a fresh opportunity may be known in the next 24 hours, and both campaigns are making a play for Iowa. Despite the state's modest six Electoral College votes, Iowa has played an outsized role this election cycle. Both candidates have invested significant resources into securing victory here. While it's not an absolute must-win, Obama's efforts here have forced Romney to secure support elsewhere, just in case.
While Romney has events planned in Ohio and Pennsylvania Tuesday, Obama decided to make Monday night his final public appearance before election night. He'll spend part of the day Tuesday playing basketball while the votes are counted.
"It's out of my hands now," Obama said. "It's in yours. All of it depends on what you do."