Obama to run presidential reelection effort out of Chicago

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 11:58 PM

President Obama will run his reelection effort out of Chicago, senior officials said Thursday, a move that will split his top political advisers between his home town and Washington.

White House officials, who had telegraphed the move for months, said they wanted to get out of the nation's capital to escape the Washington bubble and be more in touch with voters. Some who worked on Obama's 2008 campaign, also based in Chicago, said there is a deep desire to recapture the in-the-foxhole vibe of that effort.

The move will also allow senior adviser David Axelrod to work closely with the campaign after returning home. For other aides, it will serve as a loyalty test to see who will join them.

Still, no successful incumbent in modern history has placed his headquarters so far from Washington, let alone in another time zone.

The decision was made over the objections of some White House officials, who argued that moving to Chicago would add another logistical hurdle to the already cumbersome process of running a presidential campaign. Senior adviser David Plouffe, who ran the 2008 campaign, has recently moved into the White House, where he will be charged with coordinating all of the White House's political activity.

Politically, there's no obvious advantage to being in safely Democratic Illinois, rather than, for example, Virginia, a swing state where George W. Bush set up his 2004 reelection campaign a few miles from the White House.

White House officials said Obama will formally announce his candidacy around April when he files the official paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

In the meantime, he has begun assembling people to run the effort, move back to Chicago and revive the grass-roots operation that was key to his victory two years ago.

Helping to lead the 2012 campaign will be two women in the Obama orbit. Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, an expert in voter targeting who is executive director of the Democratic National Committee, will head to Chicago to become a deputy campaign manager, the DNC announced.

Julianna Smoot, who ran a booming fundraising operation for Obama in 2008 and took over as White House social secretary last year, will become another deputy campaign manager. She will again focus on raising money, but will take on other responsibilities as well.

News of their moves was first reported by the New York Times.

Both will join Jim Messina, whom Obama settled on months ago as his campaign manager. Messina, now a deputy chief of staff at the White House, is expected to soon start building a campaign infrastructure and set up its fundraising operations.

The Chicago headquarters may not be fully operational until April - timing that would avoid any overlap with the Chicago mayor's race, which will probably end with a runoff on April 5. Administration officials would like to avoid too much entanglement with the mayoral campaign of former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, whose record in the White House has recently become an issue in his race.

White House officials also said Thursday that they will eliminate the formal position of political director. The current political director, Patrick Gaspard, will move to the DNC to take over Dillon's role, Chairman Timothy M. Kaine announced Thursday, describing Gaspard as a "great person."

"He understands the importance of grass-roots politics and team building. He is someone with whom I have worked closely and I look forward to working with him even more closely at the DNC," Kaine said in a letter sent to DNC members.

"The political office closes here," press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily White House briefing Thursday. "I think that's a matter of duplication and efficiency that makes a lot of sense, to house that operation over at the Democratic National Committee."

Some of the other political jobs will move to Chicago. Patrick Dillon, who is married to Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, will be leaving the administration to join Hilltop Public Solutions, a prominent Democratic consulting firm run by Mo Elleithee and Nick Baldick. Patrick Dillon will be based in Washington but move to Chicago with his wife.

Mitch Stewart, the director of Organizing for America, and Jeremy Bird, the OFA deputy director, are also expected to move to Chicago for the campaign. Other Democratic aides on Capitol Hill, at the DNC and in the Cabinet agencies are also expected to fill in some gaps, officials said, adding that the full campaign will not move into high gear before the summer.

The campaign moves come amid a larger personnel shift at the White House, as both Plouffe and Chief of Staff William Daley finish a second week at the helm.

Unresolved is the question of who will serve as the next press secretary, a vacancy created more than two weeks ago when Gibbs announced his departure. Aides had said they expected a replacement to come quickly, but Daley requested a broader list of options and told aides he would like to see a woman among the candidates.

Staff writers Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake contributed to this report.

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