It doesn’t sound near as exciting as “Change you Can Believe In,” does it?

Unfortunately for the guy who coined the “Change” slogan, it’s 2011, and we know him a lot better than we used to (although the warning signs were there. That’s the last time I ignore something I wrote.) I think it does, sadly, speak volumes about how far we’ve sunk, and how far we have to climb back to get to even a 1999 frame of mind.

I guess we’ll see how far the President gets with what will surely be the determining factor of his 2012 campaign.

If President Barack Obama wants North Carolina in his win column again next year, he might have to count on Elliott Johnson’s quiet, even grudging, acceptance rather than the riotous enthusiasm that propelled him to the White House in 2008.

Johnson, a 23-year-old college graduate with a new accounting degree in hand, is an intern at a commercial real estate firm. He would like something more permanent. But many of his college friends aren’t finding work, either, and he’s counting on a breakthrough in the economy.

“We have to do something different,” he said, pausing at a downtown street corner on a sweltering afternoon.

Johnson supported libertarian-leaning Republican Ron Paul, a Texas congressman, for president in 2008, but he’s now open to giving Obama a try.

“I feel like there’s better out there, but, honestly, I’m not seeing the better right now,” he said. “So he may be the best we have.”

For the president, struggling against 9.1 percent unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery, that might be as good as it gets these days.

Nationally, his approval ratings hover around or just below 50 percent. But public opinion surveys find that a large majority disapproves of his handling of the economy and even more believe the economy is in a rut. That means the economy will be a dominant factor in determining how many people vote for president next year.

That will be especially critical in contested states such as North Carolina, which hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 until Obama eked out a victory three years ago.

Obama is committed to winning here again. The Democratic national convention will be held in Charlotte next year, and Obama is traveling to Durham on Monday to make a jobs pitch and raise his profile.

In 2008, Obama galvanized voters en route to his closest state victory. He beat John McCain by a mere 14,177 in North Carolina.

Interviews last week in the state, which has the 10th highest unemployment rate in the country, revealed widespread economic anxiety among voters.

“I don’t think that enthusiasm is quite as broad as it was,” said Shirley Tate, a 66-year-old retired teacher and reading specialist from Gibsonville. She knocked on doors and made phone calls for Obama’s campaign three years ago.

“We’ll have to work two times harder than we did the last time,” she said, as she watched for visitors at the gift shop of Greensboro’s International Civil Rights Center and Museum where she now works.

Obama does have advantages here that past Democratic presidential candidates did not.

More than 21 percent of the state’s population is African-American. The state’s Hispanic population is on the rise, a fact not lost on Obama advisers as he mobilizes support for overhauling immigration laws.

What’s more, the state’s partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans has softened with an increase in unaffiliated voters.

Like Virginia, Florida and Georgia, three other southern states that Obama wants in play in 2012, North Carolina has seen huge population growth in the past 25 years. Most of that growth has been concentrated in metropolitan areas where finance, pharmaceuticals and high tech have replaced old industries such as tobacco and textiles. Some rural areas are hurting under the weight of unemployment that ranges from 12 percent to more than 15 percent.

Major corporations such as IBM, Bayer, and DuPont have a home in North Carolina’s Research Triangle in the heart of the academic triad of Duke University, North Carolina State and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. High technology is leaving its imprint elsewhere in the state, too. Apple has invested $500 million toward a $1 billion data center in rural Maiden to handle its new iCloud storage and retrieval service.

Those demographic and economic changes have made states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida more competitive for Democrats.

Nevertheless, Obama still faces a huge challenge motivating voters again like he did in 2008.

Tom Hedrick, a 52-year-old engineer from Lexington said Obama and his advisers have been overly optimistic about his job creation plans. A McCain supporter in 2008, he’s looking at the Republican field for a candidate in 2012.

“Three, four months ago they were talking about how it felt like the recession was over and we were pulling out of it,” he said as he tasted a cheese dip at a farmers’ market about 30 miles from his home. “It’s just not happening.”

For most of us, economic growth has become a bunch of numbers on a chart. We are still plagued with the challenges of just living day-to-day, and the numbers haven’t meant much to us one way or another. Such is life for you unless you are a millionaire in the Plutocracy of America.

Instead of talking about economic “growth” charts, here’s a chart at Frum Forum that ought to be getting attention from somebody, somewhere. But I seriously doubt we have to worry about ANY Presidential candidate bringing it up.

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