Last spring a leading Democrat in the Hispanic community begged top officials in President Barack Obama's reelection campaign to find at least one new, inspiring idea for the 2012 campaign.
It didn't have to be costly, this adviser said, just something to project optimism and a crusading sense of novelty into what, even at that time, was a nasty, essentially defensive campaign against Mitt Romney.
Obama officials hinted -- but didn't quite promise -- that they would unveil a new proposal at the Democratic convention in Charlotte.
The convention came and went. Nothing.
As the polls and Electoral College map have tightened in the last two weeks, some Democrats privately are second-guessing "Chicago," aka the Obama high command, on everything from basic strategic doctrine to diplomatic relations with Capitol Hill.
If the president ends up losing the race to Romney, here are some of the reasons -- in addition to the lack of a fresh second-term agenda -- that Democrats will eventually, but certainly, cite in public:
THE AXEMAN COMETH -- Obama campaign mastermind David Axelrod is a romantic about the possibilities of government and politics, and seven years ago he began touting Obama as a purifying revelation to both.
But the 2012 campaign has brought out the other side of Axelrod: an instinctive fighter with a former reporter's penchant for eviscerating his foes.
Beginning a year ago, the Obama campaign's central, and negative, plan was to make Romney an unacceptable alternative. The Obama campaign and its allies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the effort, and have spent most of their time attacking Romney on everything from Bain Capital and his tax returns to Seamus the dog and the elevator in his splendid new garage.
Arguably, the Obama campaign put Romney in a hole that took him months to climb out of, but climb out he has. His "favorables" are finally on the plus side and are approaching those of the president.
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS -- The Obama campaign, and the Obama presidency, haven't done a consistent or convincing job of touting whatever good news there is -- and there are increasing amounts of it -- about the economy. Yes, the unemployment rate remains high; yes, the "right direction/wrong track" poll numbers remain negative (though not as negative as they once were); yes, millions of Americans remain underwater on their mortgages while big banks horde cash and pile up huge profits.
But there is another side to the story, and the Obama campaign hasn't sold it well, beyond talking, justifiably, about the success of the auto bailout. Consumer confidence is at its highest point in five years. The stock market has come back from the late Bush-era crash. Home starts and hiring are up. Venture capital groups are lending money again. If you don't talk about the good stuff, no one else will.
FAILURE TO PACKAGE A LEGISLATIVE ATTACK -- The president does have a new proposal to sell: a job-creation package that sweeps together several ideas. He and fellow Democrats say that it would create at least a million new jobs. Obama mentions the package but hasn't made it central to his campaign.
"He should make it a 'take it or leave it' challenge to the Republicans," said a prominent congressional Democrat, who spoke anonymously so as not to jeopardize his reputation for loyalty. "He needs to inspire the Democrats by showing more fight."
CALLING IT "OBAMACARE" -- In private polls for members of Congress, majorities of voters support the individual measures that comprise the landmark Affordable Care Act. But in most polls, the percentages drop when votes are asked if they support "Obamacare" -- in one poll in a swing district, support dropped by 15 percentage points.
FAILURE TO PHONE, PRETEND TO FRIENDS -- Obama's aloof (some would say condescending) attitude toward Democrats in Congress is legendary, though not in a way that is helping him now. Many, if not most, leading members of his party in Congress have never had a serious, lengthy conversation with him. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been lectured to more than wooed.
From the start, the Obama campaign was a self-contained, almost anti-establishment operation. But when you are president, you are the consummate insider, whether you want to be or not. It's getting late this kind of thing, but some heart-to-hearts -- even by phone -- would help. Almost everyone likes a call from Air Force One.
For Howard Fineman's full 2012 Countdown, click here.
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