"America's best days are yet to come,'' President Ronald Reagan used to say as he inspired the nation through his words and actions during two terms in office during the 1980s.

Four years ago Americans again hungered for the kind of "hope and change" optimism offered by then-candidate Barack Obama. But heading into this fall, much of the Democrats' energy seems to have evaporated, along with a boatload of unfulfilled campaign promises, such as a more transparent administration, cutting wasteful spending in federal agencies and being able to reach across party lines to find agreement on issues. In just those three big categories, the Obama administration is 0-for-3.

With 40 straight months of unemployment over 8 percent and a federal deficit approaching $16 trillion, voters will also be doing a closer reality check this time around to gauge just how much better their lives have become under Obama. GOP strategists are content to let the president's four-year record on the economy speak for itself.

According to a recent CBS News/NYT poll, the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown to more than 20 points since March. The fact that enthusiasm among Republicans and independents is on the rise heading into November is not a good sign for Democrats, especially since both candidates covet the independent, uncommitted voters.

Obama's hope is to regain momentum by recharging his voting base as he did in 2008 but as long as the economy struggles, this will remain a big challenge. A majority of those who were polled didn't feel their lives were better now than four years ago nor are they optimistic about the future.

A Rasmussen Poll taken in May asked 1,000 adults if they thought today's children will be better off than their parents. Only 16 percent said better off, 63 percent said they won't be better off and 21 percent weren't sure.

A second question was asked if they thought the U.S. economy would be stronger than today or weaker. Fifty-two percent said it would be weaker or about the same and only 35 percent felt it would be stronger.

Just 37 percent of the likely voters said they were optimistic about America's future, while 45 percent thought our best days were past. Another discouraging polling statistic for Obama and Democrats is that 64-percent of those polled think the country is on the wrong track, and that was up from 62 percent in May.

Although this president was able to take a victory lap on the elimination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces, America's prestige in the global community is not that great. A Pew Research Center poll found that outside our borders "many now see the financially-strapped United States as a great power in decline.'' Among respondents in 18 countries, 47 percent expect China to replace the United States as the world's leading power. Only 36 percent disagreed.

In 2008, Obama was able to generate a wave of voter enthusiasm and optimism among Democrats, but today the political landscape is much different. The 2010 mid-term elections were a disaster for incumbent Democrats and Republicans are counting on that same kind of grass roots energy to deliver similar victories in the fall.

Four years ago, many voters staked their future hopes on a fresh political face offering grandiose promises. Realizing that a candidate's smooth words and GQ style can't pay the grocery bill, many of those voters may have second thoughts this time around.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com