Obama to launch 2012 campaign with first official rallies in Virginia, Ohio

Vowing that "the monologue is over," President Obama's campaign team announced Wednesday that the president is ready to kick off the 2012 campaign, holding his first official rallies next week in two critical swing states.

Obama will travel to Columbus, Ohio, and Richmond, Va., on May 5 for campaign events, and is expected to have first lady Michelle Obama at his side, campaign officials said Wednesday evening.

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At the campaign rallies, the president will "outline the choice the American people will make in November," said campaign manager Jim Messina said on a conference call with reporters.

With Mitt Romney all but completely securing the Republican nomination for president, next week's events show Obama transitioning into campaign mode.

"It took him a while to get there, but we're there," David Axelrod, a senior strategist for the Obama campaign, said of the Republican challenger, adding that it's the "right time to engage."

“For the better part of last year, Romney has tried to tear down President Obama with a dishonest, negative campaign that even other Republicans have criticized,” Axelrod said. “Well, the monologue is over. Now Romney has to put his record and his agenda up against the president’s, and we look forward to that debate.

“We’re not the candidate who reinvents himself week to week,” Axelrod continued. “If you want that, you’re going to need to go somewhere else.”

Axelrod said Romney “wants to move back to the future” and said that there’s nothing in the presumptive nominee’s business record “that would suggest he’s a champion of creating an economy that works for the middle class.”

Obama's schedule has had the trappings of a campaign for months, with visits to swing states and speeches to supportive crowds. It's something Republicans have seized upon in describing the president as the campaigner in chief.

“After campaigning on the taxpayer’s dime for a year, it appears President Obama acknowledges it’s time to start picking up the bill,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary for the Republican National Committee (RNC).

Kukowski said that at Obama’s campaign events next week, “you can expect to hear a lot of divisive rhetoric and finger-pointing, but not much about his record of ballooning debt, lost jobs and rising gas prices.”

This week Obama traveled to three college campuses in different swing states to tout his support for extending low interest rates on student loans.

The White House has maintained that the stops are “official” business and that Obama is not in campaign mode, but with the general election nearing, the president's events have felt increasingly like campaign rallies.

Axelrod said the president wouldn't "get hot and bothered by RNC stunts," and would continue to advocate for programs in an official capacity.

On the conference call, Messina said Obama will continue doing his “busy day job” and will “layer in campaign events when we think it’s appropriate.”

The campaign took pains to contrast that with Romney, whom Axelrod joked "hasn't had a job in six years."

"There's no doubt Gov. Romney has an advantage: He hasn't had a job in six years — he's unemployed, he famously joked — and he's got every day, 24 hours a day, to run for president, and we don't have that advantage. That's just the reality of the situation," Axelrod said.

The Romney campaign dismissed the comments in a statement issued to reporters Wednesday night.

"Americans shouldn’t be surprised that President Obama’s campaign will attack Mitt Romney for his experience in creating jobs. Unfortunately, voters will have to expect that the Obama campaign will be running a campaign based on personal attacks to divert, distract and distort," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

The Obama campaign team said it chose Ohio and Virginia for events because they’re two critical states that they believe will help Obama secure his victory, and said the campaign is particularly excited about Michelle Obama’s participation in the two events.

“She plays a special role on the campaign trail,” Messina said. “She can speak to the president's character and to his steady hand during times of crisis, and she can tell stories about what this administration's accomplishments have meant to millions of Americans."

Just as the conference call was about to begin on Wednesday evening, Obama made his way back from a posh Washington hotel where he spent about an hour at a campaign fundraiser. Ticket prices to that event started at $35,800.


This story was originally posted at 7 p.m. and last updated at 9 p.m.