MENTOR, Ohio — President Obama entered the final weekend of a bitter campaign on Saturday, a battle-scarred incumbent trying to recapture the mantle of ‘‘change’’ and the lofty ideals that propelled his lightning-in-a-bottle bid for the White House four years ago.
As he set off on a morning-to-midnight march through Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Virginia, Obama scoffed at Mitt Romney’s recent attempt to appropriate the change label, saying he was merely dressing up the failed policies of the George W. Bush administration.
Speaking to 4,000 supporters at a high school, Obama presented himself as both a familiar, trustworthy leader and an insurgent who could break the gridlock in Washington.
‘‘Back in 2008, when I was talking about ‘change we can believe in,’ I wasn’t just talking about changing presidents; I wasn’t just talking about changing parties,’’ Obama said. ‘‘I was talking about changing our politics. I ran in 2008 because the voices of the American people, your voices, had been shut out of our democracy for too long.’’
Despite the frustrations of his first term, for which he blamed ‘‘protectors of the status quo,’’ Obama said he could still deliver change in the nation’s schools, keep college affordable, expand production of energy, and rebuild aging roads and bridges.
Echoing his post-partisan message of 2008, Obama even encouraged supporters to vote for Republicans for Congress if they concluded that those candidates were ‘‘serious about putting people first instead of putting elections first.’’ It was not clear how that message will play with Democratic candidates down the ticket.
Obama also drew a not-so-subtle distinction with Romney, whom he accused again of dishonesty in tying his administration’s bailout of the auto industry to jobs lost to China.
‘‘You do want to be able to trust your president,’’ he said. ‘‘You want to know that the president means what he says, and says what he means. After four years as president, you know me.’’
Among supporters, the mood mirrored the man: sobered by experience but searching for the old magic.
‘‘He’s going in the right direction, but he hasn’t had enough time to get it done,’’ said Susanne Dauler, 78, a retired teacher. ‘‘But I still believe in him.’’
Obama campaign officials on Saturday trumpeted early-voting figures from battleground states that they say overwhelmingly favor the president.
“Our opponent is losing among early voters in nearly every public poll in every battleground state,” said Jeremy Bird, the campaign’s national field director, in a conference call with reporters.
“If these public polls are right, [Romney] would have to win 65 percent of the remaining votes in North Carolina, 59 percent in Iowa and Colorado, 58 percent in Nevada, 55 percent in Florida and Ohio, and 52 percent in Virginia and Wisconsin,” Bird said.
The early-voting advantage is the result of a robust ground game, Bird said, noting that Obama volunteers had signed up for 698,799 shifts to get out the vote over the final four days of this campaign.
As Obama makes what is almost certainly his last campaign trip as a candidate, the core group of advisers who worked for him in 2008 have packed the seats on Air Force One for what is turning into a sepia-tinged farewell tour.
‘’It’s like the band is breaking up,’’ said David Axelrod, the senior strategist who functions as the group’s shaggy elder.
Among the returning alumni: Robert Gibbs, the former press secretary; Reggie Love, the president’s former personal aide; Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser; Jon Favreau, the chief speechwriter; and Jennifer Psaki, the campaign’s press secretary.
Superstition abounds. Favreau and Rhodes are growing beards that they said they would not shave until after Election Day. That day, the group plans to meet for lunch at the Gage, the Chicago restaurant where they ate on Election Day four years ago.
‘‘There is a sense on this trip of going all the way back to the beginning,’’ Rhodes said. In drafting the final version of the president’s stump speech, Favreau said the president’s aides were reminiscing about the language in his first speech as a candidate.
Now 31 and contemplating a life outside of politics, Favreau said, ‘‘Never in my life will I have another experience like this.’’
Bill Clinton has become the workhorse of the campaign, stumping tirelessly for the president across the battleground states, sometimes several each day. And Obama is showing his gratitude, heaping praise on the 42d president in his stump speech.
‘‘For eight years, we had a president who shared our beliefs: His name was Bill Clinton,’’ Obama said in Lima, Ohio. ‘‘By the end of President Clinton’s second term, America had created 23 million new jobs. Incomes were up. Poverty was down. Our deficit became the biggest surplus in history.’’
For three days last week, when the East Coast storm kept Obama off the trail, Clinton served as his proxy and validator, standing in for the president at rallies in Florida and Ohio. On Saturday, the two men appeared together for the first time, in Bristow, Va.
Clinton’s support is all the more striking, given the well-publicized chill in their relationship after the 2008 campaign. While Clinton is behind Obama now, he acknowledges it was not always so. “I am far more enthusiastic about him this time than I was last time,’’ he said Friday in Florida.