The Obama of 2008 has returned with a message and a mission. Although the Blue Dogs are slinking away—in some cases toward their own defeat—he’s carried the cause of tax fairness straight into the district of Republican House Whip Eric Cantor. While the NBC/Wall Street Journal findings show a close to even split on extending the lower rates for the highest income, a presidential push can change that by posing a stark choice—tax cuts for the middle class versus the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. And this can animate a larger theme that will mobilize the party’s natural base: that Democrats fight for you, while Republicans are for the few, the comfortable, and the privileged.

The president’s also back on campus again—this week at the University of Wisconsin, where 26,000 came out to cheer him as he told them in no uncertain terms that they needed to show up in November. He’ll have to sound that appeal again and again. In the NBC/Wall Street Journal data, only 35 percent of young voters express high interest in the midterm election; they haven’t yet followed Hispanics and African-Americans into the likely voter column.

Obama can change the political weather by a few degrees—and that might be just enough. In the process, he has to inspire and not just scold disappointed progressives. But he has a point when he says that it’s “inexcusable” for Democrats to skip the midterms: “People need to buck up.”