SHADES OF ’08…. Some of the White House’s political gambits of recent months have been smarter than others. (“Recovery Summer,” for example, belongs squarely in the “what were they thinking?” category.)

But whoever came up with the idea for a series of ’08-style rallies in the campaign’s closing weeks probably deserves a pat on the back. President Obama headlined an impressive event at the University of Wisconsin in Madison late yesterday afternoon, and if the goal was to capture some of the spirit of the presidential campaign, it worked like a charm.

President Obama, seeking to avert potentially devastating losses for Democrats on Election Day, delivered an impassioned appeal to a cheering throng of college students here Tuesday night, telling them to “keep believing change is possible” and pleading, “You’ve got to stick with me, you can’t lose heart.”

In a 45-minute speech on a packed green in front of the library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mr. Obama reached back to the soaring rhetoric that carried him to the White House in 2008. The old-fashioned get-out-the-vote rally, in a brisk wind under gray skies, seemed to energize the president as much as the crowd.

“Change is going to come for this generation — if we work for it, if we fight for it, if we believe in it!” Mr. Obama thundered. “The biggest mistake we can make is to let disappointment or frustration lead to apathy and indifference.”

According to local law enforcement, 26,500 people showed up for the rally, and before the gates opened, the line of people waiting to enter stretched over a mile. (A local report said the crowd was “exceedingly well behaved.”) What’s more, the event was simulcast online to 200 other campuses, as part of a not-so-subtle attempt to reinvigorate younger voters who gave Obama a boost in 2008, but who traditionally don’t vote in midterm elections.

In a message that seemed targeted specifically to those first-time voters from two years ago, the president said, “You proved that the power of everyday people, going door to door, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, was stronger than the status quo. You tapped into something that this country hadn’t seen in a very long time. You did that. Every single one of you is a shareholder in that mission of rebuilding our country.”

That “shareholder” line seemed new and noteworthy — it was a way of reinforcing the notion that those who helped elect Obama are literally invested in his success, and have an incentive to avoid a hostile takeover of what they created.

Wisconsin, home to competitive gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, was the first of four scheduled “Moving America Forward” rallies, with the next three scheduled for Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, each of which will also hold key gubernatorial and Senate races this year.

Politico‘s report noted that Madison offered “proof that the president could still work his magic.”

I have no quantifiable evidence that rallies like these actually boost midterm turnout or affect the “enthusiasm gap,” and with a struggling economy, I’m not sure how much of the country is even willing to listen.

But if last night was any indication, the White House may want to revisit the schedule and hold a few more of these events over the next 34 days.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.