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For Obama, reelection campaign HQ is wherever he is

Presidential duties consume most of his time, but he fits in fundraisers during official trips and gets detailed updates anyplace he happens to be.

June 02, 2012|By Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessey, Washington Bureau
  • President Obama greets a crowd as he arrives for campaign events in Chicago, his hometown and headquarters for his reelection campaign.
President Obama greets a crowd as he arrives for campaign events in Chicago,… (Yuri Gripas, AFP/Getty…)

CHICAGO — President Obama zipped around his hometown Friday — hitting a string of fundraisers, visiting friends and checking his long-unoccupied house. But he did not stop by his campaign headquarters.

He doesn't have to.

As he juggles foreign visitors, ceremonial duties and the usual tasks of sitting in the Oval Office, Obama remains in close contact with his reelection effort.

He spends many Sunday nights huddled with a small circle of advisors at the White House, going over strategy, ads and polling. He keeps abreast of political news on his iPad. And when he's on the road, he gets updates on Air Force One, in limousines and hotel rooms and backstage at events.

Obama normally travels about two days a week. These days, he squeezes as many campaign events as possible around his presidential appearances.

After giving a speech about the economy and veterans Friday morning in Minneapolis, for example, Obama attended three campaign fundraisers. Then he flew to Chicago for three more fundraisers, including a reception at the ornate Chicago Cultural Center.

"This is going to be a very close race," Obama told supporters at the Norwegian-themed Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis, hinting at the dismal jobs report released earlier in the day. "It's going to be close because there's a lot of folks out there who are having a tough time."

As Obama planned his reelection effort last year, aides emphasized the importance of distance from the trappings and toxic politics of Washington. The decision to base his reelection campaign in Chicago was billed as a rejection of so-called Beltway thinking, a reference to the capital's traffic-clogged ring road, and a chance to be closer to voters.

Most recent presidents set up reelection offices near the White House or in Washington's suburbs to keep close tabs on the operation. Obama's decision reflects a more fundamental reality: The campaign is wherever he is.

When he phoned Mitt Romney on Wednesday to congratulate him on securing the electoral votes needed to lock up the Republican nomination, for example, the president called from the West Wing.

Being president "does not lend itself to blocking out Monday and Wednesday for campaign work, and Tuesday, Thursday, Friday for official duties," said Michael Feldman, a former top advisor to Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee for president in 2000. "The infrastructure … goes with you."

Obama gets direct updates from campaign manager Jim Messina. But Obama leaves most campaign dealings to David Plouffe, the political operator who helped him win the White House and now holds the title of senior advisor. Plouffe typically determines whether a Sunday night or other briefing is necessary, and sometimes prepares PowerPoint presentations, aides say.

White House aides insist Obama is not consumed or distracted by the daily grind of campaign operations. Still, they say he is closely involved and getting ever more so as his race heats up.

"We do carve out time for him" to focus on the campaign, said one aide, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. "But he's got official responsibilities that consume the vast majority of his time."

Traveling without his wife and daughters on Friday, the president planned to sleep at his home in the leafy Kenwood neighborhood. Obama last checked it in January, when he swung by late at night and ran inside while his motorcade idled.

An aide said the president looked forward to sleeping in his own bed again — when he gets there, probably close to midnight, after the last fundraiser of the night.

Parsons reported from Minneapolis and Chicago, and Hennessey from Washington.

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