Illinois Democrats are descending on Charlotte, North Carolina, where this week the party will convene for its national convention. It'll be President Barack Obama's chance to respond to Republicans who spent last week in Tampa denouncing his leadership. That makes the mood at the D-N-C much different than it was four years ago, when Obama was first running for the nation’s highest office. IPR's Amanda Vinicky reports from Charlotte:
Hope and change. It was a campaign slogan that caught on like the chorus of a pop song. A message that helped propel a first term Senator from Illinois to the White House. Two words that are now haunting Barack Obama as he tries to hold on to the Presidency.
"It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new. Now all that's left is a presidency adrift. Surviving on slogans that already seem tired. Grasping at a moment that has already passed. Like a ship trying to sail on yesterday's wind."
That was Republican's candidate for vice president Paul Ryan, last week at the GOP's convention. Even Democrat Kwame Raoul, who represents Obama's old district in the state senate, admits the glean has worn off. He believes voters will come through for Obama. And he says that Obama was done well as President, but with the caveat of "under the circumstances."
"When you're a candidate, when you're a candidate that most of the country didn't fully know, knew of his oratorical skills and things of that nature, being a candidate is a whole lot different than having the job, and it's probably one of the worst times in history for somebody to ascend to the Presidency because you're just going to be blamed for everything."
State Senator Terry Link, a Democrat from Vernon Hills who used to play poker with Obama in Springfield, says there is a different atmosphere heading into this election compared with four years ago, in Denver, when Obama accepted his party's nomination for president the first time.
"You're never going to have another 2008. I don't think I will live long enough to see one, I don't think anybody will live long enough to see 2008. Because it was a, not only for Illinois people, but for the whole nation. We elected the first African American president. A younger President. And that was able to change states that never were a Democratic column before."
So what happened?
"Now what you're seeing is the economy was just terrible. They're finding out Congress isn't working with the President. They're finding out racism isn't over."
Convention organizers in Charlotte are still trying to cultivate a festival-like atmosphere. At one pre-convention bash, the band Chairman of the Board got media types and vendors dancing to the "Carolina Shuffle."
And downtown Charlotte is full of energy as delegates party-hop before their official duties begin.
'Oh, Bacon wrapped scallops, very swanky, oh it was amazing."
Nicole Betourney and Sarah Bigler are both first time delegates for Illinois who were thrilled to take time to stand outside "Blue," a bar and restaurant at a relatively busy intersection in Charlotte’s financial district, to talk about their experience at a private party held by Speaker of the Illinois House and Chairman of the state Democratic Party Michael Madigan. Betourney and Bigler are part of the key demographic that helped Obama claim victory in 2008. The youth vote. And they're still enthusiastic about Obama.
"Yes this is my first convention it's so exciting."
And Sarah is this your first convention?"
"It is, I'm actually the first person in my family to get involved in politics. I remember watching the results come in for President Clinton when I was like ten years old."
Betourney , who's 34, from Palos Heights, and from a politically connected family, brushes off the suggestion that younger voters won't turn out for Obama this time around.
"All of my friends are extremely pumped and they support the President 100% and they're very excited that I'm here!"
But for Bigler, who's 26, reality has settled in. She just graduated from Eastern Illinois University, with a degree in political science. Watching Obama and his dealings with Congress has been an education in itself.
"We realize that politics isn't always about getting what you want and it's not always about the big flashy conventions, the big flashy debates, it's a real process it's about debating with Congress, it's about laying out what you want, but also always having to compromise."
Bigler says she can't say that the youth vote will come out as strong for Obama as in '08:
"But I do think there's enough of us that we'll be still excited for him. He's still our president and there's enough of us that are still involved enough. It does affect our future too and I think that still resonates with a lot of us."
Just as those younger voters have grown up some, aged some, so has Obama. Visibly, yes, there are those gray hairs.
But Washington Post reporter David Mariniss, author of a memoir about Obama's own youth, says it's not just that the times have changed. He says Obama has changed too.
"He evolves himself. Some politicians never change and just become more so. And I think that Barack Obama, after studying his life, you can see that he actually learns from his mistakes and learns from what's he's done before, so I think he's constantly in that sense evolving and growing."
The question, Marinass says, is whether he'll get a second term to show that.
Support Your Public Radio Station