Three years after storming the White House with the “fierce urgency of now,” President Obama has a new message for his reelection campaign: Be patient, democracy is big and tough and messy.

“When I said, ‘Change we can believe in,’ I didn’t say, ‘Change we can believe in tomorrow,’ ” Obama told a crowd of 2,400 during a birthday celebration in Chicago this month.

This week, the campaign offered supporters free bumper stickers that read simply “2012,” with the campaign’s Web site address but no slogans whatsoever.

At a town hall-style appearance at the University of Maryland last month, a student asked Obama to identify his biggest regret. He said that he had oversold the optimism during his 2008 campaign and should have been more blunt with the public about the depths of the economic crisis.

Obama’s advisers say his supporters will mobilize once they know which Republican will challenge Obama next fall. Voter intensity can be driven as much by dislike of a challenger as by enthusiasm for the incumbent. This is their hope.

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