How Obama and Romney Came to Battle for the Mantle of 'Change'

VIDEO: David Muir takes you inside the campaign of the Republican presidential candidate.
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Voters go to the polls today to decide a dead even race between President Obama and Mitt Romney—two candidates for the nation's highest office, battling for ownership of the mantle of "change."

Obama, as an insurgent and historic candidate in 2008, used soaring rhetoric of hope and change to convince a jaded and economically insecure nation that its best days were ahead. But it remains to be seen tonight whether the durability of his message and his appeal will survive for a second term or was seen by voters as little more than flowering rhetoric.

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there," Obama said on election night 2008.

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Four years later, it is that same message that Romney has adopted on the trail, promising to foster the economic growth he says Obama has failed to deliver as president.

"President Obama promised change, but he could not deliver it. I promise change, and I have a record of achieving it," Romney states in what has become a key part of his closing argument in the final days of the campaign.

After a 19-month long campaign, the two men are statistically tied in nearly every major poll in the final days, including the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Obama's reelection predicament is as much a product of the harsh reality of the country's rapid fall into economic recession in Obama's first year in office, as it is a reflection of the reality of partisan gridlock that characterized Obama's first term in office and has tarnished his 2008 promise to change the way Washington works.

Despite coming to the White House cushioned by a near 60-vote super majority in the Senate and a 78-vote majority in the House of Representatives, Obama faced opposition nearly immediately when he sought approval for a $787 billion stimulus package.

As president, the man who campaigned on bringing the country together, who pledged to "heal the divides that have held back our great progress," trudged week after week to the halls of Congress in the first weeks of his presidency—courting votes from resistant Republicans who opposed the bill's massive price tag and many of its component parts. In the end, not a single Republican would back the bill.

And so it went, bill after bill. First the failure of comprehensive climate change legislation, then the difficult passage of the health care bill which became law on March 23, 2010 after a year of acrimonious debate, again without the help of a single Republican vote.

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The health care legislation also touched off historic backlash in the form of the "Don't Tread on Me" Tea Party movement, which first exploded at congressional town hall meetings across the country, and eventually drove Republicans to a majority in the House and shrank the Democratic Senate majority to 51 votes on an anti-tax, deficit reduction platform.

It is as the leader of this political party that Mitt Romney, a Republican governor from the Democratic state of Massachusetts, emerged.

To do it, he would need to amass a political apparatus early that could endure a long and bruising Republican primary, and raise enough money to compete against Obama's demonstrated ability to raise nearly $800 million.

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