In Charlotte, N.C., this week, President Obama faces the challenge of re-energizing the supporters who carried him to victory in 2008 under the banner of "Hope and Change." It is no small task, after the recession that ate up the first five months of his administration and more than three wearying years of a painfully slow recovery. Obama will call on his supporters to think back to the enthusiasm they had for him four years ago. And in that way, he is as different from his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, as any man could be.
The Republicans' theme in Tampa. Fla., last week was "We Built It." But if Romney had had a personal theme at the convention, it might have been: "It's not about me."
Political conventions are usually celebrations of the nominee -- forums for introducing him to the nation and converting enough fence-sitters to propel him to victory. The Tampa convention was different. It was a celebration of the party and its ambitions to reshape American government and politics. At times, Romney seemed to fade into the background -- and he seemed OK with that.
This does him credit, and it probably also reveals something about his style of leadership.
In 2008, Obama's campaign resembled a cult of personality. Romney subtly reminded voters of this when he mocked that old promise to slow the rise of the oceans. But even Obama, in his book "The Audacity of Hope," expressed awareness and even a bit of fear at his popularity and the effect he had on people in political life.
Romney, in contrast, offers a much humbler presence. He filled the lineup with speakers such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Mia Love and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida -- people who are frankly more charismatic and exciting than he.
Christie spent little of his keynote address talking about the nominee, focusing instead on the theme of tough love and the difficult task of saying "no" in government -- a lesson he is more than qualified to teach, based on his own tenure in office.
In Paul Ryan, Romney chose as his a running mate a man far more eloquent than himself -- and also far more beloved of the party base -- whose speech electrified the convention hall on Wednesday.
On the night of his own acceptance speech, Romney chose to follow Rubio, another gifted speaker, and Clint Eastwood, a beloved film icon. He did not strain to be more charismatic than either. In his own speech, Romney was simply himself -- a very comfortable, at-ease man that many people had never seen.
Romney's pragmatic, un-flashy campaign is born partly of necessity. He is not naturally charismatic man and is working within his limitations. It is a risky strategy, because charismatic candidates win for a reason.
But as the convention's testimonials on Romney's faith, charity and business career confirm, he resembles Ronald Reagan in that he is secure enough to surround himself with good people, even if it means the spotlight sometimes shifts in their direction. Whatever Republicans dislike about Romney, they should be happy to nominate someone who knows that this year's presidential race is about things bigger than himself.