Obama, seeking lost magic, crosses country campaigning for Democrats -- and himself

He's also in search of something he has lost: the adoration of the American people.
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 23, 2010; 12:36 AM

Barack Obama remembers how good it used to be to be Barack Obama. He only wishes everyone else would remember, too.

"I understand how some of you might think back to election night or inauguration night when Beyonce was singing and Bono," the president told a crowd of 10,000 in Seattle on Thursday. "And you were saying, boy, that was exciting, that was fun, that was a big party. And now it just seems like we're working all the time and folks are arguing and everybody is mad. All these pundits are on TV. And this is just kind of discouraging."

Obama journeyed west this week on a final five-state scramble before the midterm elections in search of money for his party and votes for endangered Democratic candidates. His voice hoarse from a brewing head cold, he has gone from Oregon to Washington to California to Nevada. On Saturday, he finishes his tour in Minnesota. His speeches have been filled with Obama-esque word pictures, and his tone has been relentlessly upbeat. He has revived many of his lines from 2008.

Yes, "Yes We Can!" is back. And Obama is still "Fired Up!"

Yet if his speeches before the friendliest of faces are a reflection of his mood, the president is also retracing his steps in hopes of finding something he has lost: the adoration of the American people.

His public approval ratings have dropped 18 points since Inauguration Day, and in his exhortations to the crowds, a bit of weariness and an unmistakable note of nostalgia seeps in at the edges.

"I need you to keep on believing. I need you to keep on hoping," Obama told an audience of 37,500 at the University of Southern California Friday, to applause and cheers. He made the case that if his 2008 supporters turn out again Nov. 2, "We are going to restore the American dream for not just some, but for every, every, everybody in this great land."

Another backyard chat

Between speeches, Obama's staff arranged for him to break out of the presidential bubble, up to a point. He motorcaded through closed-off Seattle streets Thursday for one of his now-common backyard chats, this one at the modest home of Erik and Cynthia Foss - Democrats with a friend who left local government to work in the administration.

Secret Service agents and White House staffers practically lived in the Foss House for a week before the president arrived, plotting the route, securing the neighborhood and seeing to the hundreds of details that go along with a presidential visit.

Cynnie Foss, a volunteer services manager at a local hospital, thought it would be nice to prepare tea for the president. Instead, the agents took over her kitchen and brewed the pot of Earl Grey themselves.

The little Foss girls, Anna, 8, and Elsa, 5, wanted to give Obama presents for his daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9. So Cynnie went to a neighbor who made jewelry and together they designed bracelets for the first daughters. They were strung with glass beads and pearls, little silver charms with the girls' initials and other charms in the shape of Washington state, musical notes and dog paws.

When Obama arrived, Cynnie greeted him at the door. She had pre-approved a presidential hug. "I was told I could hug him, and I was told he was a hugger, which is great because I'm a hugger, too," she said in a phone interview later that night.

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