Tuesday, March 22, 2011

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.

Chicago will direct fundraising, research and a vigorous new-media operation. Campaign workers are being recruited for jobs in key states to answer Republican critics, and as "trackers," monitoring the public utterances of Republican presidential contenders.

The third center of Obama's campaign operation is Democratic headquarters in Washington, where a former White House political deputy, Patrick Gaspard, has been dispatched. The national committee's rapid-response team is already pushing back, through e-mailed news releases, against undeclared Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Obama's message lurched to the center after November's electoral blowout, and he remains focused on independent and moderate voters whose support secures victory in presidential contests. Among the issues: curbing the increasing cost of healthcare, promoting education and reducing the government's long-term deficit.

At the same time, he has shored up his liberal base by agreeing to repeal the ban on openly gay personnel in the military and ordering the Justice Department to stop defending a federal marriage law that the administration says discriminates against gays.

With Congress likely to provide, at best, grudging funding for any project, Obama is reviving the sort of low-cost, highly symbolic measures that Clinton, the most recent two-term Democratic president, used at a similar point in his presidency to lure middle-of-the-road voters.

A new White House campaign against bullying — aimed at parents, a key voter group — has both a moderate political undertone and an element of confession. Obama said that "with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn't immune" from being picked on at school.

For the time being, his aides insist the president's moves are driven by policy, not politics. After Obama sat down in the White House's Map Room with the local television reporters, his press secretary, Jay Carney, said the news outlets were selected because their markets would be affected by the president's education plans, the topic Obama wanted to discuss that day.

As for all those markets being in swing states, Carney said, "I wouldn't read too much into that."

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