Working with Congress
The president says if he's re-elected he hopes the Republican Party will change.
"I believe that if we're successful in this election, when we're successful in this election, that the fever may break," the president said in June in reference to the GOP. "My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn't make much sense because I'm not running again, then we can start getting some cooperation again."
Axelrod, the president's long-time adviser, argued that an Obama win could cause a shift in the opposing party:
"I've always believed there are Republicans who are locked in by the dynamics of their own party and know the American people want them to cooperate where they can. Our goal is to liberate these Republicans of goodwill to see a bright new day and tell the Grover Norquists of the world to take a hike," Axelrod said.
But more Democrats expect the change to come from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue: from the president himself.
Asked what the president learned from his first term, a senior Democrat said, "He'd rather work with them (Republicans) than against them." But the source wasn't optimistic, quickly adding, "He won't give them two years to jerk him around like he did last time."
That was a sentiment echoed by every Democrat contacted by CNN. One said the president learned from his first term that "being president is a continual campaign and can't separate legislating from the campaign."
Another argued that Obama will have more success if he builds relationships away from Capitol Hill.
"He will have to find major expressions of trying to bring people together that don't just involve trying to cut deals with GOP in Congress. At the end of the day they have his number on that. They can assure he's unsuccessful," the Democrat argued.
It's not lost on the president. In an interview over the summer, he said if he's re-elected he hopes to work with Republicans, but if they won't compromise to his liking, "I'll work around them."
Some insist Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in particular, is facing a decision point.
In 2010 McConnell famously said his party's top priority was to make Obama a one-term president. This Democrat pointed out McConnell will be up for re-election in 2014 and posed a question.
"Does he want to go into his re-election cycle as obstructionist in chief? That will be a big choice he'll have to make."
However, McConnell represents Kentucky, a consistently Republican state that most recently sent tea party advocate Rand Paul to the Senate. Battling the leader of the Democratic Party could be good politics for the senior Republican senator.
The other bites at the apple could include corporate tax reform and the use of executive authority to promote a clean energy agenda. Given the current politics, realistic Democrats say the most the president is likely to get on energy legislation is a reauthorization of the administration's clean energy tax credits.
There is not much political will to promote spending on infrastructure, though the president often discusses putting construction workers back to work. There are ways he can front-load spending on infrastructure investment already in the pipeline, but beyond this his opportunities seem limited.
After about 18 months, the nation's capitol will turn to the midterm elections and members of Congress who are up for re-election. This is typically when a second-term president focuses a great deal on the other side of his portfolio: traveling the world as a solo actor, commander-in-chief.
Despite the challenges, senior White House adviser David Plouffe sounded optimistic about the state of play past November 7.
"Campaigns are tough. Folks in Congress, people understand campaigns are tough. We've got big challenges," Plouffe said. "When that's over people will dust themselves off and attention will appropriately turn to that away from politics."