Like 2008, the US election is all about hope... but this time Obama isn't preaching it, he's relying on it

Evidence may mount that, politically, Hurricane Sandy came in the nick of time for Barack Obama, writes David Usborne in Concord, New Hampshire

New Hampshire

Straining to eke out a victory in Tuesday's election and hold on to the mantle of hope and change, Barack Obama furiously plied his vision of middle-class security and social equality in four swing states yesterday, as the polls showed him neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.

"We have made progress in the last four years," Mr Obama said, citing items from the death of Osama bin Laden to the revival of the car sector. "But we are here in New Hampshire because we know we have more work to do. Our fight has to go on. Our fight goes on because we know the nation can't succeed without a growing and thriving middle class."

If Mr Obama is seen having an easier path in the electoral college count, it would appear very narrow. While his team said a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, tonight would be the last of his campaign, deploying him even tomorrow morning, for example in Pennsylvania, remained an option. That would be seen as the panic button being pushed.

While there is eloquence and urgency aplenty in Mr Obama as he campaigns today, he is not quite as he was four years ago when his rhetoric touched almost Messianic tones and when the "urgency of now" was his gripping, central mantra. Perhaps it has been four years in office that has eroded the magic.

Meanwhile, nothing in the latest polls gave him reason for comfort. Nationally, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll saw him winning 48 per cent of voters versus 47 per cent for his opponent, essentially a tie. Swing-state polls also suggested a squeaker. In critical Ohio, a Columbus Dispatch poll put Mr Obama only two points up, within the margin of error.

"You may not agree with every policy I put forward… and you may be frustrated with the pace of change sometimes, but you know where I stand," Mr Obama declared to cheers. "You know I tell the truth."

At his side as he zipped on Air Force One from Concord, New Hampshire, to spots in Florida, Ohio and Colorado, was the former President and Democrat campaign rock star, Bill Clinton. Call it the Bill and Barry 2012 roadshow. "The hour is late and time is short," Mr Clinton told a Concord crowd that spilled several blocks away from the main stage. Mr Romney's "basic message is 'be very, very disappointed'", Mr Clinton declared. " 'Don't pay too much attention to what our solutions are, but be disappointed. And look at me, I look presidential'".

He applauded Mr Obama's response to super-storm Sandy as a "stunning example of how 'we are all in this together is a better philosophy than 'you're on your own'", a swipe at Mr Romney's supposed top-down economic approach. Evidence may mount that politically, Sandy came in the nick of time for Mr Obama.

What the storm did to the race will feature large in a Republican post mortem if the challenger loses. "The hurricane is what broke Romney's momentum," the former Mississippi Governor and Republican grandee, Haley Barbour, said yesterday.

Wisconsin, where Mr Obama will start today's state-by-state dash, coupled with Ohio, may be his best hopes for building a firewall against Mr Romney and clawing his way to the 270 majority he needs in the electoral college to hold on to the White House. Less certain for the President are Iowa and Florida. Mr Romney appeared to have an edge in North Carolina.

The possibility clearly looms, however, that Mr Obama could wake up on Wednesday having won the college – and therefore a second term – but having lost the national popular vote, the fate that befell George W Bush in 2000. He would thus return with a seriously weakened mandate to govern.

That Camp Obama is in a squeaker was evidenced by his stop here in New Hampshire. With its modest population, the New England state offers a mere four electoral college votes, but this time they could make all the difference. A local television poll yesterday had the two men tied. Mr Romney has his final rally in the state tonight.

The Obama campaign was closely eyeing Mr Romney's decision to end his day yesterday in Philadelphia, making a last-minute grab for Pennsylvania, a state that had until now seemed beyond his reach. It could be interpreted as a desperate gambit to find an alternative path to electoral college victory or as a sign of late confidence.

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