It was telling that his convention speech was remarkably short on inspiration, emphasizing instead that he offered voters a hard path, but one that would lead the country to a better place.
His message in rallies and fundraisers is no different.
"I always said that change takes time," he said. "We always said that it would take more than one term. ... And by the way, no, it doesn't just take me. That's not the deal. The deal is it takes all of us."
At times Obama almost sounds like voters inked a contract with him, and they need to renew it. Not exactly the stuff of tingles for Obama supporters who show up looking for that.
But it does reflect a campaign that recognizes this is no 2008, when Obama was the fresh voice, and helped by the anti-incumbency mood of voters who saw Republican Sen. John McCain as a version of President George W. Bush.
It was this time back then, during October's chill, that Obama's campaign took on the anticipatory feel of victory. Obama recalls it as a period with "all the things we had going for us — all the way that things just kind of converged."
Yet even on that feel-good front, Obama offers tough lessons for voters.
"Back in 2008, everybody always remembers the victory. Things always look good in retrospect," he said. "But in the middle of it, we made all kinds of mistakes. We goofed up. I goofed up. But the American people carried us forward."
Such is the period Obama is in now.
It's been one of the hardest of the campaign. His aides are still dealing with questions about the last debate and eager to get to the next one, but insistent that Obama never loses perspective.