(CBS News) CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In 2008, President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president by promising Americans hope and change -- as he put it four years ago, "a new politics for a new time."
As an incumbent president in 2012, he has to run on his record, not just his potential. And that means finding a way to connect to those 2008 voters who rallied around his pre-inauguration promises -- and in some cases are now disappointed that he did not live up to them.
Not even Mr. Obama would claim that he's brought wholesale positive change to Washington. If anything, he's presided over a time when the two major parties have grown more polarized. Few Americans look at Washington today and see, as he put it, a new politics for a new time. Most seem to see the bad old politics of the old days -- only worse. They look at the economy and they see improvement from the depths of the recession, but they don't see the sort of upward prosperity trend that they once saw as their birthright.
Mr. Obama's challenge on Thursday night, when he accepts the Democratic nomination for president, will be to make the case that he deserves four more years nonetheless. And he needs to do it in a way that exceeds the lofty expectations that come with his reputation as a public speaker but is grounded enough that Americans don't see his promises as empty.
"What he now has to propose is there's still hope for change. That it's not too late to invest in him for change. And that's a tough sell," said Jonathan Rauch, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in Governance Studies.
According to a senior Obama campaign official, the president plans to "lay out a path forward" that will give Americans "a good idea of what a second term of an Obama presidency would mean."
The official said the speech will reflect the challenges both the president and the country have faced over the past four years, adding that "the American people are very understanding of that -- of the situation that he walked into, and what he did about it." The president plans to make the case that while Americans aren't necessarily where they want to be, they're better off than they were when Mr. Obama took office.
Paul Glastris, the former chief speechwriter for President Clinton who now edits the Washington Monthly, said Mr. Obama needs to talk specifically about his accomplishments over the past four years. He argued that Mr. Obama has been reticent to do so because it has been hard for the average American to see how those accomplishments have impacted his or her life.
"He's got to make the case that the achievements of the last four years are the basis for the policy actions for the next four years," said Glastris. "That the first four years are the foundation for a grand plan."
"You make a case for what you inherited, what you did, what the successes were, what you encountered along the way, and why the job isn't done," added Congressional scholar Thomas Mann. "But in the course of it, taking some real pride in what's been accomplished."
Bob Shrum, a longtime Democratic insider lauded for his speechwriting abilities, also argued that Mr. Obama will benefit from getting more specific than his Republican opponent.
"Romney's economic plan [at the Republican National Convention] took up less time then talking about Neil Armstrong in his acceptance speech, and as much as I respect Neil Armstrong, that's not the right balance," he said.