New urgency for Team Obama

A new urgency has swept into President Obama’s campaign as disappointing fundraising numbers have emerged alongside the shaky economy as a major threat to his prospects for reelection.

While the president’s aides originally maintained they wouldn’t be moving from “zero to 60” when they launched their campaign in May, now, with less than four months until Election Day, it appears they’re pushing down harder on the pedal.

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Since his Independence Day break, when Obama took a couple of days of downtime at Camp David, the president hasn’t let up, holding almost daily campaign events. There have been high-dollar fundraisers, a bus tour (complete with handshaking and baby-holding in restaurants, a farm stand and a bakery) and battleground rallies, all of which seek to control the national discussion.

There have been internal changes as well: A new traveling campaign press secretary now accompanies Obama on trips alongside White House spokesman Jay Carney to brief traveling journalists.

And Obama has canceled his annual Martha’s Vineyard vacation next month, likely to spend more time on the road.

A senior Obama campaign official said while there’s some concern about the amount of money being raised on the Republican side, especially by outside groups — including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super-PAC — “it’s only natural that less than four months before an election … things are going to pick up dramatically for both sides.

“It’s July, and the election is in November,” the official said, comparing Obama’s new schedule to those of previous incumbent presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “This is crunch time right now, because this is when people are tuning in.”

One former administration official agreed: “You can’t let all the airspace be occupied by the other side. Especially during this election.”

But the former official said the sea change, especially with the tidal wave of GOP cash, is palpable.

“There’s a very real sense of, ‘You can’t just sit back,’ ” the former official said. “There’s so much money on the other side, and we’re in unknown waters. If people are freaked out, I think they should be freaked out. After all, it’s the new reality of American electoral politics. And we’re venturing into the great unknown.”

Don Peebles, who serves on Obama’s National Finance Committee, told The Hill he’s “concerned [Obama] won’t have sufficient resources to fight back with.”

“He’s being put in a position where it’s going to be a difficult race,” Peebles said. 

Obama’s poll numbers have remained steady, with the president leading presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney in most major surveys. But some say the change of pace in recent days underlines some concern for Team Obama.

“Oftentimes an incumbent president expects to have more money than the opponent, and ideally use that money to define and hamstring that opponent, the way Bill Clinton did so effectively with his challenger, Bob Dole,” explained Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “It’s becoming more clear that that’s not going to be the case this time. They’re realizing they’ve got to run hard from this point forward to maintain an uncomfortable lead.”

The Obama campaign, Jillson added, “isn’t down and terrified. They’re up and running a little scared.”

Republicans want to seize on their recent good news in fundraising. 

Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said Team Obama is “struggling across the board,” dealing with an enthusiasm gap problem, lackluster job numbers and an economy that isn’t growing fast enough, and being outraised for the second month in a row. 

“They’re nervous that with all their efforts, they don’t seem to be moving the needle,” Kukowski said. “Four months out, I think it’s a warning sign that they have a lot of work to do.”

While the Obama campaign aides dispute that fact, they acknowledge that the president is devoting more and more time to the campaign. Later this month, for example, after another bus tour, this time in Virginia — which will take place on Friday and Saturday — Obama will head back to California for a fundraising junket and a stop or two in Western battleground states, Democratic officials say, where he will continue to talk about his accomplishments and where he hopes to take the country.

“The president’s goals aren’t complete yet,” the senior campaign official said.

And Obama might have more at stake than just losing an election, observers say. 

“There’s no such thing in American history as a successful one-term president,” Jillson said. “It’s the two-term presidents, who have the time to pass their initiatives, lock them in and build on them in the second term, that are most memorable. If you can’t do that, your accomplishments will be swept away.”