White House aides insist the president will not shy away from calls for bipartisan cooperation just because he's setting up his campaign office.
"Just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for reelection does not mean that you're going to see the president doing a ton of political reelection events," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Since the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., a few weeks ago, officials on both sides of the aisle have called for a cooling-down of the partisan rhetoric that usually engulfs Washington. Plus, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said they will sit together during Obama's address to the joint session of Congress, instead of sitting on opposite sides of the aisle in the House chamber.
One official said the timing allows the White House to put the news of the campaign behind it before the speech.
And, ultimately, the official said, by giving the go-ahead for the campaign to start now, Obama can stay focused on his day job.
"He's not taking his eye off the ball here," the official said.
While playing coy about whether Obama is officially running for a second term, Gibbs dismissed talk that the ramp-up is coming too early, saying, "This is very much in line with the calendar that you've seen align with similar efforts that were made ahead of the 2004 election and ahead of the 1996 election by Presidents Bush and Clinton.
"I think that's just the way it works," Gibbs said.
White House officials and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced Thursday that a number of early actions are being taken to position Obama to run for a second term.
Obama has approved moving the campaign headquarters to Chicago, and he is elevating key aides from the 2008 campaign, including deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, who will serve as campaign manager.
Two 2008 campaign deputies — Julianna Smoot, the White House social secretary, and Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, executive director of the DNC — will round out the campaign leadership team. Obama also approved dissolving the White House office of political affairs, moving those responsibilities — and the office's director, Patrick Gaspard — to the DNC.
Fundraising and grassroots organizing for Obama’s reelection effort will start in late March, a White House official said.
Lending further weight to the notion the campaign is getting under way, Vice President Biden sent an e-mail to Obama's enormous supporter list with the heading "Promises Kept," outlining what the White House has accomplished over the last two years.
But Gibbs insisted that Obama's focus is on the economy, arguing that by green-lighting the personnel moves approved this week, the president can let his top aides worry about reelection.
Gibbs said the moves don't "mean that the president is going to spend a whole lot of time worrying about" the election.
"The campaign is going to be run by a group of people in Chicago whose jobs will be to worry about that, not the president's," Gibbs said.
And what about former Vice President Cheney's recent prediction that Obama will lose his bid?
"I don't think [Obama] spends a lot of time thinking about political prognostication," Gibbs said.
— This story was updated at 5:34 p.m.