CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Hope? Change?
That's so 2008.
That seems to be the attitude of New York-based supporters of President Obama, including those gathered here for the Democratic National Convention.
Four years after Obama's promise of a hopeful, postpartisan future helped catapult him to the White House, backers acknowledge that his campaign's tone has been much more negative this time. Their reactions seem to range from reluctant acceptance to a genuine embrace of the Obama campaign's evisceration of Republican Mitt Romney's business background.
"It's a different time; it's a different campaign," said Diana K. Cihak, one of Obama's first organizers in the Buffalo area four years ago.
Cihak said she doesn't like the negativity and hopes to see it change in Charlotte this week.
"But the truth is that negative attacks work, and I think that maybe [the Obama campaign] got sucked into that," said Cihak, who is not a delegate this year, instead opting to focus on Women Elect, her effort to get more women elected to office.
Indeed, ads attacking Romney for his work at the Bain Capital private equity firm seem to be resonating, those involved in the Obama effort say privately.
Proof can be found in the polls. While Obama and Romney are tied nationwide in the Real Clear Politics polling average, Obama is leading in nine of the 12 swing states that will decide the election.
Those are the states where the Obama's campaign and the super PAC supporting him have relentlessly run ads saying that Bain's actions resulted in layoffs and outsourcing at the companies it bought.
It's a far cry from Obama's optimistic 2008 campaign, but former Buffalo Common Council Chairman George K. Arthur, another of Obama's earliest local supporters, seemed resigned to the change in attitude.
"I really don't like it, but I understand why they've done it," he said.
The explanation can be found in Romney's race for the Republican nomination, Arthur said.
When Romney was struggling, he unleashed relentless attacks on rivals such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Arthur said it was a sign that Romney would do the same to Obama - but that Obama could blunt those attacks by striking first.
"Sometimes in politics you're forced to do things," Arthur said.
That sort of pre-emptive strike has been common on the Republican side over the last three decades, but earlier generations of Democrats seemed less likely to attack first, several sources said.
When asked whether Obama's ads represent Democrats' adopting a strategy used so effectively against them in the past, Obama delegate Jeremy J. Zellner said: "Absolutely."
"In all campaigns, there's going to be a tinge of negativity," said Zellner, chief of staff to the Erie County Legislature and a candidate for Erie County Democratic chairman. "It's good that we're actually fighting."
Others said the Obama campaign adopted a harsher tone this time because in a close election, it needs to draw a strong contrast between the incumbent president and Romney.
"The choice is so stark and the differences between the candidates is so stark," said local Democratic activist John F. O'Donnell Jr. "That's why you end up with this tone."
Asked for his reaction to the tone of the Obama campaign, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., launched into his own critique of the Republican nominee.
"I think that Mitt Romney, perhaps his greatest fault is one of narrowness," Schumer said. "He thinks that by helping Mitt Romney and people like Mitt Romney, that's enough to make America good. Now we want the high end to do well, but that's 5 percent or 10 percent. What we really want is for the middle class to do well."
Noting that a shortage of skilled labor is one of the problems plaguing the American economy, Schumer said:
"I think that talking about these kinds of things and drawing the differences between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is our path to victory."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, put things more bluntly.
Speaking at the New York delegation breakfast Tuesday, Silver said:
"Where once we said, 'Yes, we can,' given the alternative, now we say, 'Now, we must'?"