In 2008, Barack Obama was a stronger candidate than his campaign, capable of using his unique skills to get out of jams. In 2012, his campaign may have to carry him.
As an example of this shift, consider what happened Friday when Obama said in his news conference that the private sector is doing fine. Within hours of Mitt Romney's mocking response, Chicago had released its own video, dissecting Romney for saying we don't need any more government jobs, like firefighters, cops and teachers.
This little skirmish has no significance beyond the fact that it demonstrates that unlike 2008, where Obama could have probably won with a mediocre campaign, four years later, he is going to need a great campaign to win. And not only tactically.
Lois Romano had a good piece this weekend about how the Obama campaign continues to build the next-generation, digitized voter turn-out machine, and this will help, especially if the election is close. But the election won't be close if the president continues to mail it in like he did on Friday.
Right now, the president doesn't always seem to have a tight grasp on his strategy. There are always "dark nights of the soul" in presidential campaigns, when someone has to provide confidence and clarity about the path ahead. My sense is that the president did this for his campaign at several key moments in 2008 — the Rev. Wright speech, the calm and decisive reaction to the financial meltdown, when John McCain imploded. In 2012, his campaign may need to return the favor.