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MORE GRAY, 'MORE WORK'
THEN: "If there is anyone out there who doubts that America is a place where anything is possible ... tonight is your answer," said a fresh-faced Barack Obama, after becoming the first African-American President in November 2008.
NOW: Four years later, Obama turned his thoughts to moving forward. "Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual," he said Election Night 2012, adding, "We've got more work to do."
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THEN: "Hope" was the message, in an iconic poster designed by artist Shepard Fairey.
NOW: Amid a jobs and economy crisis, the President pushed "economic patriotism" in his campaign, saying, "Today as a nation I believe we are moving forward again."
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YES, THEY CAN
THEN: In August 2008 Obama accepted the nomination aside wife Michelle before a crowd of 75,000 in Denver, Colo. He stressed the election's significance during "a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil and the American promise has been threatened once more."
NOW: With support from the first lady, Obama again accepted his party's nomination at the September 2012 Democratic National Convention. "If you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible," he said, "well, change will not happen."
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THEN: When Obama set out to get Delaware Sen. Biden on his ticket, there was one problem. "When I finally got him, he said he was at the dentist's office," the President told PEOPLE. "I realized only later that he was being a doting husband, looking after Jill during a root canal."
NOW: After the veep made a controversial remark on the campaign trail, the President still had his back. "Joe Biden has been an outstanding vice president. He is passionate about what's happening in middle-class families," he said.
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THEY'RE GROWING UP
THEN: Pre-election season was a family affair for Obama, who introduced the nation to Malia and Sasha, then 10 and 7, respectively, in 2008.
NOW: The sisters are coming of age in the White House, confidently stepping out on the campaign trail in 2012. "They’re terrific girls," Michelle Obama told PEOPLE. "They're poised, and they're kind, and they're curious ... But you have to carve out space and hold it sacred for them."
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SCHOOL OF BARACK
THEN: Even those too young to cast a ballot enjoyed face time with Obama, who reached out to students in 2008, including a class of Norfolk, Va., high schoolers.
NOW: The visits to future voters continued in 2012, memorably so when he was upstaged at an October tour stop in Delray Beach, Fla. In a now viral photo, two schoolkids shared an innocent smooch as the President sat with other students. Yes, even the Commander-in-Chief gets photo-bombed.
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THEN: Poking fun at a famed comment by self-proclaimed hockey mom Sarah Palin, he told David Letterman in September 2008 that he had never put lipstick on a pig, "but I think it might be fun to try."
NOW: He was more serious in a September 2012 visit to the N.Y.C. Late Show studio: "If you want to be President," he told Letterman, "you have to work for everyone."
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UP FOR DEBATE
THEN: Obama's calm, cool rhetoric separated him from McCain in 2008, although critics sometimes questioned the substance behind his promises – and tales of Joe the Plumber.
NOW: He found a tougher opponent in Romney, although the debates were often overshadowed by remarks about Big Bird, binders full or women and bayonets.
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STILL A DOUGHNUT MAN
THEN: What would first lady (and exercise enthusiast!) Michelle Obama say? The then-candidate treated supporters during a February 2008 pit stop at a Washington, D.C., Dunkin' Donuts.
NOW: In October 2012, he dropped off a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for firefighters in Tampa, Fla. He later added at a rally, "Thanks for waking up early."
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HUG IT OUT
THEN: Obama took the political handshake up a notch in 2008, as supporters, including this Jacksonville, Fla., woman got up close and personal with their soon-to-be leader.
NOW: It was the bear hug seen around the nation! Four years later, a Fort Pierce, Fla., pizza shop owner unexpectedly lifted POTUS off the ground, prompting the 6-foot-1 Obama to ask, "Man, are you a power lifter or what?"