By Michael O’Brien - 04/04/11 11:38 PM EDT
President Obama on Monday officially launched his campaign for a second term in office with a video message that featured no remarks from Obama and only a few glimpses of the president.
In both style and substance, Obama de-emphasized himself in his formal reelection announcement, instead turning attention to the volunteers and grassroots supporters who helped deliver him the White House in 2008.
Obama’s reelection launch comes at a high-stakes moment during his third year in office. The president has spent the better part of the last month dealing with U.S.-led airstrikes in Libya while seeking to strike a budget deal with congressional Republicans that would avert a government shutdown.
He’ll now start a campaign that has set the audacious goal of raising $1 billion, much of which must come from a liberal base that has become disenchanted with some of the president’s policies.
Underlining the problem, Obama announced his reelection effort the same day his Justice Department announced it would reverse itself and hold a military trial for the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
“As the song goes, it’s never as good as the first time,” said Democratic consultant Jamal Simmons of Obama’s effort Monday to fire up the grass roots. “But they’ve got a lot of people who are very fired up and excited and would walk on glass for Barack Obama.”
Obama’s decision to file in early April places him at the beginning of a new quarter in the fundraising cycle, giving him time to build on an impressive initial haul from donors. Both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden — whose name was included in the Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing, putting to rest rumors he would be replaced on the 2012 ticket — have met in recent weeks with supporters at events billed as non-fundraisers.
The reelection launch comes at an earlier point in his presidency than did the launch of former President George W. Bush’s reelection effort, which was announced in mid-May of 2003. Obama’s reelection also precedes many Republicans’ official efforts to unseat him.
Few Republicans have formally entered the race; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer are the only recognized GOP candidates to have filed paperwork to set up a campaign or exploratory committee with the FEC.
Pawlenty’s exploratory committee released a Web video Monday highlighting the uncertain economy and claiming Obama lacks the policies to right the ship.
“I got a question for you: How can America win the future when we’re losing the present?” Pawlenty said, in a jab at one of Obama’s main talking points. “In order for America to take a new direction, it’s going to take a new president.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who hasn’t announced a campaign but is seen as the de facto GOP front-runner, hit at the president in a tweet: “I look forward to hearing details on your jobs plan, as are 14 [million] unemployed Americans.”
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, used Obama’s reelection announcement for a fundraising pitch, launching a website and Web ad titled “Hope Isn’t Hiring.”
While the GOP sought to land punches, the White House took great strides to distinguish Obama the president from Obama the politician.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Monday said Obama isn’t focused on the election — “he’s focused on doing what he’s elected to do.”
The video launching the campaign, titled “It Begins With Us,” featured comments from supporters, including many from swing states, who sang the president’s praises. Obama will visit two swing states later this week in Indiana and Pennsylvania.
The early start to Obama’s campaign will enable his supporters to respond to Republican attacks against him, but without the official imprimatur of the White House, former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) said.
“I just think he wants to motivate volunteers. This is focused on young people, new voters,” Frost, a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog, said of Monday’s effort. “Those were very important groups to him in the last election, and that was a good idea.”
Obama sought Monday to re-energize the “netroots” supporters whose small donations in 2008 helped him win office. Large “Obama 2012” ads were placed on websites including Huffington Post, TalkingPointsMemo and Daily Kos — each of which boasts a large liberal readership.
Carney said the decision to locate the campaign in Chicago would free up the president to concentrate his work in Washington, leaving the political maneuvering to aides in Chicago.
“He set up this structure or is setting up this structure ... in Chicago with precisely or in part to allow him to focus on the work he needs to do from the White House for the American people,” Carney explained. “And there’s a lot on his plate.”
Frost also hailed the move, arguing the Midwest, where Obama enjoyed support in 2008, but where Republicans made inroads in 2010, would be a key battleground.
“I think that makes a great deal of sense,” Frost said. “He wants to continue to carry the message that he’s not just focused on Washington, D.C., he’s focused on the rest of the country.”