With fewer than 60 days until Election Day, the race for the presidency is ready for a post-conventions reboot as the candidates focus on swing states and stump speeches.
After rallying their parties in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have begun the sprint to the end of their titanic struggle over the role of government and the president's record on the economy.
While television pundits mused about whose prime-time convention speech will resonate more with the electorate, the candidates and their running mates are gearing up for the battles that are more likely to sway the election: shoe-leather campaigning, jump-starting their get-out-the-vote organizations and preparing for the critical debates set for October.
As Obama campaign manager Jim Messina noted during the Democratic convention, early voting is set to start in Iowa in just two weeks. And with the conventions so late in the cycle and voters back from summer vacations, there will be no respite until Election Day.
The only break will come when prepping for the debates, which, aside from the next two jobs reports or an unexpected October surprise, will be the last, best chance for one side to break out of what has been a fairly even race to date.
Democrats left North Carolina expecting - and needing - a bump up in enthusiasm, given polls showing that their voters are less excited than they were four years ago. "We have a lot of energy and momentum," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said. "The contrast is very sharp with the Republicans to me and I think to a lot of folks - who is fighting for the middle class and who is fighting to protect wealthy interests and powerful interests."
With the Romney campaign outraising Obama's for several months in a row and holding a decisive advantage among outside super PACs, Democrats are hoping that their advantages on the ground, especially among younger voters and on social media, will propel them to victory. One silver lining they see is the fact that Romney received a negligible 1-point jump at the end of his convention last month, according to a CNN/ORC International poll. In more good news for Obama, a Gallup poll after the Democratic convention showed him with a 7 point higher approval rating.
But Democrats appear more worried than Republicans about their prospects on Nov. 6. Behind the scenes in Charlotte, N.C., top Obama surrogates to delegates and Democratic volunteers repeatedly went back to this message: If you aren't from a battleground state, get to one. If you can't get to one, sign up to phone bank. And if you can send some cash, that'd be really great, too.