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September 16th, 2011
06:32 PM ET

Letters to the President: #970 'The ever changing campaign trail'

Reporter's Note: President Obama is campaigning for re-election. I am not, but still I have some ideas about it in today’s letter.

Dear Mr. President,

I went for an invigorating run this morning on one of my favorite trails these days, a rambling up and down course through the woods by the river. It involves a lot of stump jumping, skipping over rocks, and the occasional leap across a gully. As you might imagine, it also offers plenty of places for nasty falls.

Still, almost as soon as I was underway that little voice in my head started talking. “Hey, you know this course! You’re in the groove. Just power up and go. Open up your stride, blast up the hills, and slip down into the valleys as fast as you want. You’ve been here, you’ve done this, there is nothing to fear!”

But since my last run on that path, a big storm system passed through. Trees and branches are down. Rocks have tumbled onto the main trail. Mud bogs have opened up. It is altogether rougher than it was a short while back.

So it was not altogether surprising that I caught a toe on a stray stone and found myself crashing to the ground. My hands shot into the dirt, my right knee raked across some scree; and as I rolled, my right shoulder thumped into brambles. I skidded to a stop. My leg was bloody, and my hands were stinging, but nothing was broken. I stood up, ran to a nearby stream, washed off the blood and grime, and continued on, thinking, well, it could have been worse.

Then I came to work and saw you comparing your re-election bid to your first election in 2008, and saying the odds of you winning this time are better than they were then.

Take it from a guy who has recently made this mistake: Never assume the trail you are on is the same as it was before. Things have changed. The economy is much worse. The world scene has shifted. You are no longer an outsider, but the ultimate insider. You have a record that you must run with whether you like it or not.

Can you take some lessons from 2008 into this race? Of course. But you must avoid the temptation to make direct comparisons, because the path has change dramatically. And if you assume you can use the same strategy, you may find yourself in for a bad spill.

Just some thoughts to keep in mind. Call if you get a moment. I’m around all weekend.

Regards,

Tom

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