AMES, Iowa -- If you listen closely, you can hear it: Mitt Romney is adopting the same "hope and change" message that President Barack Obama ran on four years ago.
Romney, the president's Republican challenger, isn't using the specific phrase. But his "closing argument" speech here Friday was a pitch asking America to make 2012 a change election. And Romney is casting himself as a messenger of clear-eyed optimism while arguing that the president is consumed with personal attacks and negativity.
Restoring the nation's fortunes, Romney's said in his speech here, "requires … change, change from the course of the last four years."
"It requires that we put aside the small and the petty, and demand the scale of change we deserve: we need real change, big change," he said.
The change argument is nothing new in politics, but there is a touch of irony that in the closing days of the presidential race -- looking by polls to be one of the closest in recent memory -- the Republican has adopted what was Obama's headline slogan four years ago as his own.
Romney's speech at a construction company in Ames -- the place where he came in seventh in the famed Republican primary straw poll in the summer of 2011 -- included many elements that he has begun using in his stump speech over the last few days.
Romney cast himself and his campaign as "big," and the president and his campaign as "small."
"Four years ago, candidate Obama spoke to the scale of the times. Today, he shrinks from it, trying instead to distract our attention from the biggest issues to the smallest -- from characters on Sesame Street and silly word games to misdirected personal attacks he knows are false," Romney said.
"Our campaign is about big things, because we happen to believe that America faces big challenges," he said.
Romney has noticeably shifted his tone over the last month to emphasize a sense of hope as well.
"We face big challenges. But we also have big opportunities," Romney said in his Friday speech. "New doors have been open to us to sell our ideas and our products to the entire world. New technologies offer the promise of unbounded information and limitless innovation. New ideas are changing lives and hearts in diverse nations and among diverse peoples. If we seize the moment and rise to the occasion, the century ahead will be an American Century."
Romney hit Obama for his plans to raise taxes on those making $250,000 or more a year and on his 2009 stimulus plan, and said the president wants to cut $1 trillion from the Pentagon, a reference to spending reductions that were agreed to -- by Congress and the White House -- as a backstop to force Washington come together and reach an agreement on deficit reduction.
Obama has said he does not want the cuts to happen, but he has also said that "sequestration," the technical term for the cuts, was not his idea, despite reports in Bob Woodward's latest book that Obama's chief of staff, Jack Lew, conceived of the proposal.
Ben LaBolt, the national spokesman for the Obama campaign, said that "returning to the failed policies that crashed the economy and devastated the middle class is not the change Americans are looking for."
"Change is making the middle class more secure by investing in job creating programs, increasing access to higher education, lowering health care costs and ensuring that Wall Street doesn't go unchecked," LaBolt said. "We have made great strides and the middle class can't afford to turn back."