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Originally published Monday, March 25, 2013 at 9:03 AM

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PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama's IOUs start coming due

Americans are a forward-looking people, which is to say they can have the attention span of a gnat. So presidential campaigns seem like distant history almost from the moment someone wins.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON —

Americans are a forward-looking people, which is to say they can have the attention span of a gnat. So presidential campaigns seem like distant history almost from the moment someone wins.

It's goodbye, good riddance - and hello to something else.

Yet a big aspect of every campaign lives on, four years or longer: the victor's promises.

Not just hopes and dreams and cross your fingers - though often there is not much more to them than that - but a pact with the people, a set of distinct IOUs.

Now it's collection time.

President Barack Obama paved his path to re-election with fewer promises than in 2008. But the ones he did lay down are meaty, legacy-shaping for him and consequential to ordinary lives today and for generations to come, for better or worse.

They also are extraordinarily difficult to achieve in a time of gridlock grief and budgets that are tight when they are not paralyzed.

He's promised to set a course in law against global warming, stop Iran from gaining the ability to make nuclear weapons, slash America's use of foreign oil, restrain college costs, take a big bite out of the national debt even while protecting the heart of the big entitlement programs, and overhaul immigration law.

He's promised to make health insurance not only universally accessible, but "affordable," through a 2010 health care law that is finally entering prime time and will soon be tested.

It's a sure bet that many who voted Republican want some of Obama's promises to fail. They didn't sign up for tax increases on the wealthy or a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

But as closely divided as the country is, most Americans support Obama's ends, if not the means. Who doesn't want a lighter national debt or better health care for less?

In that sense, everyone's got a stake in seeing him make good on his broad-brush promises.

Whatever a candidate's promises, legacies are made by how a president manages matters of war and peace, economic growth and weakness, social change and traditional values, and whatever crises come out of the blue.

If this decade somehow becomes the Roaring Teens, history may not care much about a big broken promise or two. If jobs are demolished, that's what will be remembered, not that 9 out of 10 promises might have been kept.

But Obama made a pact with voters, not historians, and he's got IOUs outstanding.

Republican lawmakers do, too.

They don't inherit the promises of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and did not campaign with one voice. But they presented themselves unmistakably as the party of smaller government, low taxes, a strong military capability and fiscal restraint. They have to answer to voters in 2014 for what they deliver and fail to do.

So must Democrats.

Voters can't throw Obama out of office if he botches his job this term. But the president still has skin in the game.

With a chunk of the Senate and all of the House up for grabs in 2014, Obama would have an easier time making good on his promises if Democrats were able to hang on to the Senate, win back control of the House or both. That's a tall order, given that the party holding the White House historically has lost seats in the sixth year of a presidency.

In this series, Associated Press writers who cover subjects key to Obama's agenda and that of the GOP examine his main campaign promises, their chances of being kept and their likely impact on people.

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