byByron York Chief Political Correspondent

US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (L) and Republican John McCain stand together at the end of the final presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on October 15, 2008. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Faced with deteriorating economic conditions and an unexpectedly aggressive Republican opponent, President Obama and his aides are expressing nostalgia for Sen. John McCain, the Republican opponent Obama defeated handily in the 2008 election.
At a rally in Minnesota Friday, Obama said Republicans today are in the grip of a "fever" that has caused them to oppose his initiatives virtually across the board. That "fever," Obama said, will make this presidential race against GOP nominee Mitt Romney particularly contentious -- in contrast to the last time, when Obama faced an opponent, McCain, who declined to engage in the kind of hard-hitting fight that many of his Republican supporters hoped he would.
"I mean, 2008 was a significant election, obviously," Obama told the audience at a Minneapolis restaurant called Bachelor Farmer. "But John McCain believed in climate change. John believed in campaign finance reform. He believed in immigration reform. I mean, there were some areas where you saw some overlap."
Now things are different, Obama said, and "we're going to have as stark a contrast as we've seen in a very long time between the candidates." It will only be when Mitt Romney is defeated, the president continued, "that the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that."
Later Friday, at a fundraiser in Chicago, Obama made much the same point about his 2008 opponent. "The last time we ran, we had a Republican candidate who -- I had some profound disagreements with him, but he acknowledged the need for immigration reform, and acknowledged the need for campaign finance reform, acknowledged the need for policies that would do something about climate change," Obama said. "Now, what we’ve got is not just a nominee but a Congress and a Republican Party that have a fundamentally different vision about where we need to go as a country."
A few days earlier, when the Obama campaign attacked Romney for declining to disavow Donald Trump, White House spokesman Jay Carney again invoked McCain. "You'll recall that in the 2008 race, Senator John McCain…made a decision not to ally with extreme elements in his own party," Carney said. At about the same time, the Obama campaign released a web video that also featured McCain nostalgia. "John McCain stood up to the voices of extremism in his party," the video said. "Why won't Mitt Romney do the same?"
The last week, more than any in the campaign so far, has shown Team Obama that Romney and his aides are prepared to fight as hard as needed to win in November. The Romney-organized shouting-down of top Obama aide David Axelrod in Boston; the Romney sneak event at the old Solyndra headquarters in California; Romney's refusal to give in to Democratic demands to repudiate Trump; and Romney's determination to avoid side controversies while remaining singularly focused on the economy all revealed a candidate who has resolved to battle Obama on his own, and not Obama's, terms. It's no wonder Obama has become nostalgic for the relatively comfortable days of 2008.