YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

President Obama is well into campaign mode

While Republicans search for a candidate, Obama visits key states, grants interviews, steps up fundraising and courts moderate voters.

March 22, 2011|By Paul West and Christi Parsons, Washington Bureau
  • President Obama and senior advisor David Plouffe at a Washington event. Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, joined the White House this year.
President Obama and senior advisor David Plouffe at a Washington event.… (Associated Press )

Reporting from Washington — White House aides summoned TV reporters from three battleground states to Washington recently for "exclusive" interviews with President Obama. Jon Delano of Pittsburgh's KDKA attributed the invitation, his first since questioning candidate Obama half a dozen times in 2008, to "persistence."

An alternative explanation: Obama is back in campaign mode, more than 19 months before election day.

Since the start of the year, he has traveled to a dozen states, mostly traditional general election tossups. He has entertained interviews from newscasters who broadcast in at least five key states. In April, he heads to his adopted hometown of Chicago, followed by stops in Northern and Southern California, as part of a money drive ultimately expected to raise $1 billion in reelection cash.

Last week, Obama took a break from preparations for military action in Libya and his first trip to Latin America to court major donors at a pair of Washington events. About 450 supporters were asked to raise at least $350,000 each by the end of the year, Democratic sources said.

"When you look back at the track record of work that we've done over the last two years, I think that it's fair to say the promise that we made to the American people has been kept, that we have delivered on change that we can believe in," Obama said to applause from the wealthy backers. "But we aren't finished. We've got more work to do."

The heightened campaign visibility rests on tactics and strategies retooled after his party's drubbing by Republicans in last year's midterm election. At the same time, potential GOP candidates are more aggressively criticizing all of Obama's moves, from his posture on world events to his penchant for weekend golf outings.

Obama confronts a potentially daunting list of reelection challenges: a less favorable electoral map than last time; forecasts of high joblessness running well into next year; and a volatile set of overseas problem areas, including Afghanistan, where his military deployment has become increasingly unpopular with U.S. voters.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said there was no question that "2012 is going to be a much tougher race" for Obama.

"You worry about those Rust Belt states like Ohio and Pennsylvania," he said, citing places that went for Obama in 2008 and then replaced Democratic governors with Republicans last fall.

Still, Obama has advantages. The Republican midterm election victories muted criticism from disaffected liberals. With no primary challenger in sight, Obama is more free to focus his resources on holding off the opposition — as Republicans fight among themselves to pick a presidential nominee.

"Incumbency is very powerful," said McAuliffe, who was chairman of President Clinton's reelection campaign. "In being able to use the bully pulpit of the White House, you have the power to really communicate on the issues."

Obama's effort, like that of most incumbent presidents, will have multiple power centers: at the White House, party headquarters in Washington and a campaign office in Chicago.

The White House political machinery is operating under new internal discipline imposed by David Plouffe, whom Obama calls the engineer of his 2008 victory. This year, Plouffe took over the West Wing office nearest Obama's from longtime strategist David Axelrod, who returned to Chicago but remains highly influential.

Plouffe has tightened the administration's messaging operation, enforcing greater discipline in choosing which Republican attacks to rebut and which to ignore.

The one-on-one interviews with local reporters are a time-honored method of beaming messages, which may get only glancing attention from the national media, directly to voters in important states. Within the last two weeks, Obama has promoted his education agenda and economic benefits of his Latin America trip in interviews broadcast on stations in Florida, New Mexico, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

in El Salvador, he gave interviews to CNN en Espanol and Univision, the largest Spanish-language network in the U.S.

Obama "can put a campaign apparatus in place without having to go into full campaign mode, especially as an incumbent," said Anita Dunn, his former White House communications director and a member of his circle of advisors.

At the same time, the White House is using social media to reach out more aggressively to the millions of supporters in Obama's database, including younger activists who have grown disillusioned with the pace of change in Washington.

Obama's fundraising will begin in earnest by mid-April after he files candidacy papers at the Federal Election Commission. Jim Messina, who left a senior White House job to lead the Chicago campaign headquarters, has been traveling the country for private meetings with prospective donors.

Los Angeles Times Articles