President Obama will hold his first two major political rallies of the general-election campaign next weekend at colleges in Ohio and Virginia, staking a claim in two of the most closely watched battleground states of the year and continuing his dialogue with student voters, whose energy and enthusiasm were crucial to his victory four years ago.
“Welcome to the general election,” David Axelrod, Obama’s senior campaign strategist, said on a conference call with reporters late Wednesday during which he and campaign manager Jim Messina announced the events. A day after Republican contender Mitt Romney swept five primary contests, Axelrod and Messina declared the GOP nomination battle over — and the Obama-Romney race underway.
The advisers made clear that the campaign will continue to draw a stark contrast between what they described as Obama’s long-standing desire to protect “that basic American compact that if you work hard you can get ahead” and Romney’s record of protecting the wealthy. They mentioned Romney’s time as Massachusetts governor, when the state ranked 47th in the country for job creation, as well as his time as a venture capitalist at Bain Capital, during which “he didn’t care about job creation but about wealth creation for himself and his partners.”
They offered a clear blueprint of what’s to come over the next five months of campaigning — and a continuation of the message that Obama has been broadcasting in recent appearances, including a three-state swing this week during which he urged Congress to prevent federal interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.
“We’re not the candidate who reinvents himself from week to week,” Axelrod said. “If you want that, you have to go somewhere else. This is a candidate who has a mission, and he’s going to see it through, and that is to rebuild an economy in which the middle class is thriving, in which people can get ahead, in which everybody from Main Street to Wall Street plays by the same rules and gets a fair shake.”
Obama’s rallies will take place on May 5 at Ohio State University in Columbus and at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Few additional details were available, but at the time of the call with reporters, the campaign announced the events to its grass-roots supporters via e-mail and text messaging, urging supporters to sign up for a chance to meet the president backstage. Messina said first lady Michelle Obama plan to travel with the president to both events.
Republicans reacted quickly to the news of Obama’s upcoming rallies. Statements from the Republican National Committee; from Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a possible Romney running mate; and from the Romney camp lashed back at the Obama advisers’ barbs.
“Unfortunately, voters will have to expect that the Obama campaign will be running a campaign based on personal attacks to divert, distract and distort,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “Like Mitt Romney said last night, ‘It’s still the economy, and we’re not stupid.’ ”
Also Wednesday, the RNC filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office alleging that Obama has misused Air Force One and other federal resources for campaign purposes. The president has been under fire not only for traveling more often to battleground states such as Florida and Ohio but for labeling some trips, such as his swing this week through North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa, “official business” when the trip paid clear political dividends.
“Obama for America has been cheating the American taxpayer by using taxpayer dollars to fund their general election efforts,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said. “The president, who has held more campaign events in 3.5 years than any other president did in their full term, should refund the taxpayers for the cost of these trips through his campaign account Obama for America.”
The White House and campaign officials have stated repeatedly that they follow all federal guidelines (and the model of the past two presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) on how to divide the cost of presidential travel between the campaign and the government. They said they also comply with guidelines for considering an event campaign-related or official business.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz had this to say about the RNC complaint: “This week’s travel has been part of the president’s official responsibility to get outside of Washington, D.C., to hear from students and discuss stopping interest rates on their loans from doubling in July — just like Friday’s trip to Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia, to meet with troops, veterans and military families is likewise part of the president’s official responsibilities. When there is political travel, we follow all rules and regulations that all other administrations have followed.”
During Wednesday’s call with reporters, Messina was asked how the president would balance official and campaign duties and what the rest of the campaign season would look like. He said the pace of campaign events is likely to ramp up slowly over the next several months.
“Obviously, the president has a busy day job, and we’ll continue to layer in campaign events where we think it’s appropriate,” he said. Messina added that Obama has scheduled these first major rallies later in the year than Clinton or Bush did when they began their reelection campaigns — Clinton with a swing through New Hampshire and Bush with a “framing” speech.