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Friday, October 26, 2012

Obama\'s Slogan Moves from \"Forward.\" to \"Forward!\"

For months, it sat there sort of lonely on the campaign signs and the campaign Web site. The period at the end of President Obama's official slogan “Forward.” drew curious questions: Why a period? If there had to be punctuation, why not an exclamation point?

Then suddenly, there it was this week, the exclamation point. No longer was it “Forward.” It was “Forward!” on placards and banners at Mr. Obama's stops during a two-day, round-the-clock swing through eight states, the newly punctuated slogan made its debut. The campaign called no special attention to the change, made no announcement, and yet there it was.

“It reflects the energy out there, as well as what's important in this election - going forward or back,” Stephanie Cutter, the deputy campaign manager, said when asked.

Perhaps, but that then begs the question of why it hadn't been there in the first place. Were the choices any different months ago when “Forward.” made its debut ? There is certainly more energy in the last days of an election, but wouldn't a campaign want to convey energy even in the early stages?

This of course is already devoting more time to a punctuation mark than it probably deserves. And yet obviously the campaign devoted some time to it because otherwise it wouldn't have used the period in the first place. The issue was a subject of a “spirited debate” among Obama advisers when they originally developed a slogan, according to The Wall Street Journal. Asked if the campaign had used polls or focus groups before making the switch this week, another Obama adviser, replied, “Are you serious?”

Exclamation points are not unusual in campaign signs. Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor and education secretary, famously had “Lamar!” signs when he ran for president, even if the bookish candidate did not necessarily exude excitement. But it is fairly unusual to use a period. The United Church of Christ once adopted an advertising campaign with the slogan, “Don't put a period where God has put a comma” (a quote taken from that noted theologian Gracie Allen).

Back in July, David Axelrod, the president's senior adviser, gave a sort of Goldilocks explanation in an interview. “It's just a point of emphasis,” he said then. “It made a statement. An exclamation point would be overstated. Not having anything would be understated. The period is just right.”

Until it wasn't. But then again, the exclamation point may be short-lived. With Mr. Obama's trip over, the Web site and campaign ads are using “Forward.”

If the election ends results in a recount, maybe it will become “Forward?”

Follow Peter Baker on Twitter at @peterbakernyt.