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Associated Press
Protesters march along Sunset Blvd. across the street from the location of President Barack Obama's fundraiser in West Hollywood, Calif., on Monday.

DENVER — Remember when Barack Obama first ran for president and people were really into him?

Obama remembers it, too, but not the same way some of his supporters do.

Bidding for re-election in tough economic times, Obama says there is some "revisionist history" going on about how great that first race was.

His strategy is to bring disillusioned supporters back into the fold by addressing their feelings of discouragement head-on and reminding them they signed up for something tough to begin with — even if now they just remember the "hope" and "change" posters.

And he's telling them bluntly they will have to be even more determined and find different sources of inspiration this time around since he is not the fresh face.

"I'm grayer, I'm all dinged up," Obama told a Hollywood fundraiser crowd Monday night. "And those old posters everybody has got in their closet, they're all dog-eared and faded. And so the energy of 2008 is going to have to be generated in a different way."

The approach is one Obama almost has to take if he's to reconcile memories of his historic 2008 campaign with the dispiriting realities of governing a divided country amid a sagging economy and unemployment topping 9 percent.

On Tuesday, Obama was in Denver, the city where he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination three years ago before an adoring crowd of 80,000. Tuesday's event, a speech at a high school to promote his jobs plan, wasn't an attempt to recreate that spectacle or recapture that energy.

But the contrast did underscore how much harder it can be to inspire as president than as candidate. He was pushing a nearly $450 billion jobs plan that has little if any chance of getting through a divided Congress.

It's a far cry from three years ago in Denver when the president told the huge crowd, "It's time for us to change America."

Comments from people waiting to hear Obama speak Tuesday showed how much has changed.

"It doesn't feel the same. People aren't excited," said Adrienne Hernandez, 26, an electrical engineering student in Denver. "There's a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety. It's totally different."

Brooke White, 36, a professional blackjack dealer from Denver, said she was an Obama volunteer in 2008.

"I'll volunteer again, but I'm not as into it, I'll tell you that," White said.

It would have been tough for the realities of the Obama presidency, with its deal-making and compromises, to compete with the inspirations of the Obama campaign under the best of circumstances. He's encountered far from the best, with the tough economy and Republicans attacking him at every turn.

But for Obama, the disillusionment goes even deeper than the political reality that governing is harder and uglier than campaigning.

Obama's campaign was premised on the notion of uniting the country and changing the very way Washington worked. But that's something he's acknowledged he failed to do.

So now, as he asks voters to send him back to Washington for another four years, it's no longer as a potentially transformational figure campaigning for unity, but as a battle-scarred politician campaigning, as politicians do, against the opposition.

Obama, with his approval ratings sinking into the 40s, appears to recognize as well as anyone the disconnect between the lofty rhetoric of then and the partisan reality of now. It helps explain why he finds himself needing to yank supporters out of wishful memories of the way things were.

Addressing supporters in a wealthy Seattle suburb Sunday night, Obama remarked of 2008: "There is a lot of revisionist history that says our campaign was perfect and we never had any problems, and it was all just the big 'hope' posters, and everybody was feeling good, Bruce Springsteen singing.

"That wasn't how it felt when I was in the middle of it," Obama said.