Win or lose, this is it.
"He is very cognizant of the fact that this is his last campaign," David Axelrod, Obama's senior campaign strategist, said of the president. "He knows he's never going to do this again."
These final days of Obama's final political campaign, played out across many of the same towns and cities that propelled him to the White House in 2008, are full of nostalgia.
Former staffers and old friends are traveling with the president for the campaign's final stretch. Obama's closing argument speech is peppered with talk of change, the central theme of his 2008 bid. And the campaign's fundraising juggernaut, which is shutting down for good, already sent its last email to supporters, bidding them "goodbye."
Obama will spend Election Day in his hometown of Chicago, getting a rare chance to return with his family to the South Side home where they lived before moving to the White House. And he will headline his last political rally as a candidate Monday night in Iowa, the state that jump-started his first presidential bid and a place for which Obama has an unabashed fondness.
"Iowa, I started my presidential journey right here in this state," Obama said Saturday during his second-to-last campaign stop in the state. "So after two years of campaigning, and after four years as president, you know me by now. "
Even with his future uncertain, aides say Obama is relaxed and energized as he blitzes from state to state urging voters to back him one last time. He's surrounded on Air Force One by some of those who know him best, including Mike Ramos, a childhood friend from Hawaii, and Marty Nesbitt, a friend from Chicago. The president will also be joined Monday by longtime adviser and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, as well as his former personal aide Reggie Love.
"This is a family," said Jennifer Psaki, who has worked on both of the president's campaigns, as well as in the White House. "There are a lot of laughs. And a lot of nostalgia on the ups and downs, the incredible rollercoaster that this journey has been from the day he announced he was running."
Still, the bruising 2012 campaign, plus a four-year term consumed by partisan gridlock, have taken some of the shine off the president and his advisers, who were hailed as political masterminds after engineering Obama's improbable 2008 victory. Like the president, this may be the last campaign for many of them as well.
Though they're projecting confidence, aides know the closing days of this campaign are far different than the finale in 2008.
Back then, an Obama victory was a near certainty by this point in the race. The prospect of his historic election as the nation's first black president drew massive crowds across the country, up to 100,000 people in some places. And there was no record to defend, just the lofty promise of hope and change.
This time around, the crowds are smaller and Obama's sales pitch more workman-like. The polls are tight and his political future is unknown.
Still, the president appears to be relishing the moment, particularly as he makes his final political trips to the battleground states that have become familiar destinations.
Obama's final rally in New Hampshire Sunday drew 14,000 people to downtown Concord on a cold morning. The previous night, he spoke to 24,000 people in Bristow, Va., his final stop in the traditionally Republican Southern state he flipped in 2008.
At both stops, Obama lingered far longer than usual after wrapping up his remarks. He went down into the crowd and shook countless hands, then bounded back on stage. He gave a last look back to the crowds, and with a big smile on his face and a hearty wave, disappeared offstage.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)