CLEVELAND –- President Barack Obama stood under a driving rain here on Friday afternoon, a black trench coat draped over his lanky frame, and looked out at the thousands of supporters, ticking off his accomplishments.
He mentioned health care reform, ending Don't Ask Don't Tell, increasing fuel efficiency standards, and infrastructure investments.
"You made this happen," Obama told the crowd of an estimated 9,000 people on the football field at Cleveland State University. "But if that progress is going to continue, you've got to step up," Obama added.
It was an odd thing to say to people who had been standing in what was often a downpour for as long as four hours, many of whom were drenched to the bone and shivering. And the president seemed to realize the potential for his remark to come across as insensitive.
"And I know I'm preaching to the choir here because you all are standing in the rain," he said. "But a little rain never hurt anybody. Some of these policies from the other side could hurt a whole lot of folks."
The president's speech here followed an earlier event in Leesburg, Va., where his rhetoric and demeanor were hotter. The weather may have had something to do with that. It was sunny and near 80 in Virginia, while temperatures peaked around the mid-50s in Cleveland.
During Obama's speech, the pace of the downpour increased, bringing back memories of his rain-soaked speech the day before the 2008 election. But the circumstances then and now are quite different.
Four years ago Obama was an inspiration, an upstart who had outclassed and outfoxed a veteran U.S. senator and war hero, and stood on the verge of a historic and overwhelming victory.
Now, Obama, 51, is a gray-haired incumbent who maintains fervent support among some Democrats, but who has disappointed many others, not to mention independents or even Republicans who voted for a Democrat in the belief he would change the way politics works.
And despite a positive jobs report out Friday morning, which showed the unemployment rate dipping below 8 percent to 7.8 percent for the first time since the first month of Obama's presidency, he is on his heels for the first time in over a month.
The urgency in Obama's remarks, especially in Leesburg, accentuated the degree to which he has realized -– after his atrocious debate performance on Wednesday night in Denver -– that his reelection is not going to be an uncontested layup. Polls, which showed Obama opening up a lead in September, have begun to tighten.
Obama on Friday seemed almost alarmed at the opening he had given to his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in the wake of the debate where Romney was almost universally declared the clear winner.
In Leesburg, Obama said there has been "too much progress" under his administration for him to be defeated. A loss to Romney, he said, would hurt the country.
"I can’t allow that to happen. I won’t allow that to happen," Obama said.
"I have seen too much pain, seen too much struggle, to let this country get hit with another round of top-down economics," Obama said, referring to Romney's ideas.
A moment later, he mentioned Romney's intention to repeal the Dodd-Frank law that Obama pushed to increase regulation of Wall Street. And while Romney has said he believes the regulation is ineffective and needs to be replaced, Obama characterized Romney as wanting to let the financial sector roam wild.
"That’s not going to happen. That is not going to happen," Obama said.
Although Obama used some of the same lines in Cleveland, he played more of a conciliatory role, trying out some lines that were intended to remind voters of Romney's remarks, at a closed press fundraiser in May where he did not know he was being videotaped, about the 47 percent of the country that he said thought of themselves as victims and expected government benefits.
Romney said Thursday he was "completely wrong" to make those comments.
But Obama used the ongoing attention around Romney's remarks to portray himself as a benevolent peacemaker.
"When I was elected in 2008, 47 percent of the people did not vote for me. But I didn't say, I didn't say, 'Well, I'm not going to worry about those folks,'" Obama said. "I didn't say that. I stood in Grant Park and I looked at the camera, and I said, 'Even though you didn't vote for me, I've heard your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president too.'"
As he spoke, he cupped his hands upwards and toward his body. And the crowd loved it, giving the line one of the biggest cheers of the day.
"So I don't know how many folks will vote for me this time in Ohio," Obama said. "I'm here to tell everybody -- independents, Republicans, Tea Partiers, all of you -– I will be your president too."
As he finished speaking, Obama tapped his left hand on the side of the lectern once and let out a "hey" as he turned away from the microphone to wave to soaked supporters behind him in bleachers, before coming down and shaking hands with the crowd for a few minutes, while Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care Of Our Own" played on the loudspeakers.
The positive vibes appeared to dissipate a bit later when Obama stopped at a downtown market, and asked the proprietor at Rolston Poultry how business was going.
"Terrible since you got here," said the man, who was not identified by name in the press pool report.
When reached by phone, the man said he did not want to give his name, and told The Huffington Post that he had "nothing to say."
"He just shut down my business for 40 minutes. I couldn’t sell any chickens. Not a big deal. Happens every time we get a politician in here," the man said.
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