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White House revamps communications strategy

Gibbs and others at the White House described four major changes that have been put in place since Democrats lost their supermajority in the Senate with the election of Republican Scott P. Brown in Massachusetts and the health-care effort stalled in Congress.

First, they said, is a return to the disciplined messaging that was a hallmark of the 2008 campaign, in which unhelpful themes were filtered out in favor of topics that advanced the candidate's goals. In the White House, they said, that will mean a tighter focus on Obama's commitment to the economy and jobs for average Americans. "The threshold for things he will go out and talk about is higher," one senior aide said.

Second, White House advisers promise a quicker, more aggressive response to GOP attacks on the president and his policies. They noted that Obama and his top White House advisers have pushed back hard against Republican accusations that the FBI mishandled the interrogation of the man accused of trying to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day -- and as Biden did on Sunday.

Gibbs argued the administration's case in a Feb. 3 e-mail to reporters with the subject line "Just to be clear . . ." The e-mail was the first of what he says will be a regular outreach to the media. Over the weekend, Gibbs began using the online service Twitter.

Pfeiffer, who took over as communications director in December, said he has directed more resources toward rapid response, especially online. When Bloomberg News ran a headline suggesting that Obama was indifferent to the issue of bonuses for bankers, aides immediately posted a rebuttal on the White House blog. They e-mailed online news sites to change the headline and asked progressive bloggers to convey their interpretation of the president's remarks.

A third change is a return to the backdrops for Obama that aides considered so effective during the presidential bid. The image of Obama standing in the Diplomatic Room surrounded by men in dark suits will be replaced, as often as possible, by scenes of a more relaxed president in crowds. The goal is to have Obama travel outside of Washington -- what they call "the bubble" -- at least once a week, advisers said.

Finally, aides said it was recognized inside the West Wing that Obama has strayed from his most successful message of the campaign: that he would be a change agent in Washington.

"Belatedly," Farnsworth said, "the Obama administration is starting to recognize their advantage."

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