If David Axelrod seems befuddled these days, even inadvertently making the case for “change” from the status quo (i.e., the Obama administration), it might be because all he has ever done is run races on “hope and change.” Over and over and over again.

It’s appropriate that he’s in Massachusetts today (harping on Mitt Romney’s record as governor). Axelrod ran now-Gov. Deval Patrick’s race on — you got it — “hope and change.” Patrick in October 2006 proclaimed: “This election is a race between hope and fear, between division and community, between responsibility and blame, between whether we have the courage to change, to stay young forever, or whether we stay with the comfort of the status quo.” Familiar?

Then there was 2004, when Axelrod teamed up with John Edwards. Edwards may have coined the insipid “two Americas,” but Axelrod’s imprint was there again:

Going back to 2002, David Axelrod was touting Carl McCall for New York governor. And don’t you know it? Axelrod was telling voters that his candidate was “making the case for change.”

You can find the identical Axelrod message going back to the 1994 midterms, and before that to Richard M. Daley’s race for Chicago mayor in the late 1980s. There Axelrod was again, telling voters: “Chicago needs a change.”

In short, Axelrod’s a one-trick pony. The candidates may vary but the message never does. That goes a long way toward explaining why the Obama team is off-kilter. Aside from the lack of a defensible record, all President Obama’s chief political hack knows is attack-hope-attack-attack-hope-change. Repeat. That accounts for why Obama seems so unpresidential and often speaks as if he hasn’t been president for the past few years.

You see, all the Axelrod clientele have his “change” script, but in this case, with an incumbent president, the message is comically off base. Maybe that is why Axelrod, in the midst of a thrashing from Fox News’s Chris Wallace, resorted to pleading with voters to choose “between economy that produces a growing middle class and gives people a chance to get ahead and their kids a chance to get ahead and an economy that continues down the road we are on, and everybody else is running faster and faster just to keep pace.” (You could almost see the thought bubble: “Damn, we’re the incumbent this time!”)

It was a perfect matching in 2008 — a robotic change message delivered by a new face whose election in and of itself would be historic. But it is disastrous in 2012, when “change” is the other guy’s message, and Axelrod’s candidate is now overexposed, angry and short on substance.

Hillary Clinton ran on experience in the “change” election of 2008; Obama is running against change in another “change” election. I bet it won’t work out any better for Obama in than it did for Hillary in 2008.