By JULIE PACE AND JIM KUHNHENN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DES MOINES, Iowa — For President Barack Obama, it ended where it all began.
Obama closed his 2012 campaign with a nighttime rally Monday in Iowa, where his 2008 caucus victory jumpstarted his road to the White House. In an event steeped in nostalgia, the president urged voters in the swing state to help him finish what they started here four years ago.
"I've come back to Iowa one more time to ask for your vote," Obama told 20,000 supporters at the outdoor rally. "This is where our movement for change began."
But it's more than just memories that brought Obama back to Iowa one more time. The president's team is seeking to hold off Republican challenger Mitt Romney by sweeping the Midwest battleground states, including Iowa's relatively small prize of six Electoral College votes.
Obama was joined at the rally by wife, Michelle, rocker Bruce Springsteen and a cadre of longtime advisers and friends who have been with him for the final stretch of his final campaign. The president spoke in front of the building that housed his 2008 campaign's state headquarters, one of the first offices his team opened.
"You took this campaign and you made it your own," said Obama, his voice hoarse after a fierce stretch of campaigning. "When the cynics said you couldn't, you said yes we can."
The president never mentioned Romney in his closing appeal, which sought to draw on the hope and optimism of his first campaign.
Obama's 2008 win in Iowa has taken on almost mythical proportions among aides who spent months here with the then-unknown U.S. senator from Illinois, urging voters in the largely white state to put a black man on the path to the presidency.
They recalled on Monday how much has changed since then, reminiscing about the president calling to introduce himself to everyone from Iowa's church leaders to high school students.
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said Obama, after having been told by one young woman that she was in yearbook class and needed the candidate to call her back, told his aides: `You know, running for president can be a humbling experience," Axelrod said.
Axelrod and Plouffe wore matching "Obama '08" fleece pullovers Monday. Two other fixtures from the 2008 campaign also made special appearances: Robert Gibbs, a longtime Obama aide who was Obama's first White House press secretary, and Reggie Love, Obama's former personal assistant.
"It's like the end of a long-running series and all the characters are coming back to be here," Axelrod said. He and Plouffe spoke to reporters during Obama's first rally earlier in the day in Madison, Wis.
Obama's team is projecting confidence, but the outcome of Tuesday's election is far from certain. Polls show Obama and Romney locked in a tight race nationally, though the president appears to have an edge in key battleground states.
Iowa plays a key role in the campaign's Midwestern firewall strategy. Victories in Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio would put Obama over the required 270 Electoral College votes.
Not surprisingly, Obama also stopped Monday in Wisconsin and Ohio.
While their focus was clearly on the Midwest heading into Election Day, the president's team insisted he was poised for a sweeping victory.
"I don't want to put a precise number on it, but I think we have a good chance to break 300," Axelrod said in an interview with CBS Radio.