President Obama's campaign says Rick Santorum's departure… (Marc Serota / Getty Images )
CHICAGO -- The morning after Rick Santorum ended his bid for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, Mitt Romney was quick to herald the start of the general election.
But at the Obama campaign's sprawling headquarters in Chicago, it was just another Wednesday.
Sure, there was the morning release of a Web video highlighting many of Romney's statements tailored to the conservative voters he needed in primaries and caucuses.
And the rapid response operation sprung to action when the Republican's campaign seemed to be caught flat-footed by a question about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
But there was no need for a "flip of the switch" as the GOP campaign ended, because the Obama operation had already been long-engaged in the fight.
"We were ready months ago," campaign manager Jim Messina said in an interview last week in his office overlooking Millennium Park. "We're ready on the ground, we're ready structurally, we're ready in that room out there."
The rows of young people working on laptops, the walls covered with posters, the college banners hanging from the ceiling, all gave the place a dot-com feel -- or perhaps the feel of an especially ambitious school newspaper newsroom.
But there are also veterans of the last campaign, and many before it, who know that the reelection fight will pose different challenges than they faced in 2008.
Down the hall from Messina's office, David Axelrod explained that with Romney now the presumptive nominee there was sure to be "a bit more overt back and forth" between the two campaigns. But, he noted, they had long been treating Romney as their most likely foe.
"He entered the race as a weak front-runner. He proved himself to be a weak front-runner, but he still pulled through. So you know it hasn't changed that much," he said.
Across the board, officials strain to balance their delight at how the longer-than-expected GOP fight wore down the former Massachusetts governor, with genuine concern for the formidable campaign they still expect he and his party to wage in the coming months.
Axelrod vehemently denied the idea that the campaign considered Romney a "joke," as one outlet reported earlier last week.
"I don't think people are working here from dawn till midnight or later every night because they think Mitt Romney is a joke," he said. "This is not some junior varsity team on the other side."
Still, he said he agreed with the sentiments expressed recently by Vice President Joe Biden, that the bigger threats to Obama's reelection hopes were unforeseeable developments in the economy or abroad, and the avalanche of outside money likely to pour into "super PAC" ad campaigns.
"No president has ever faced that before. You know that's a concern."
The Obama campaign is seeking to offset the expected air attack with a robust ground operation. Campaign offices have been open in most battleground states for months. As it marked the one-year anniversary of the campaign launch, the campaign detailed its progress: ground operations in all 50 states; donations from 1.8 million; 30,000 events to register voters and network volunteers.
"We understand this election will be close, and will be close for a host of reasons. And that's what we're preparing for," Messina said.
A year ago, they hoped by now to "have as many pathways to 270 electoral votes as we could."
"And the fact is, all of our pathways are there and even more."
Original source: Obama campaign primed for general election battle with Romney