Obama's 2012 reelection team gets moving

Few campaigns have ever been as devoted to grass-roots organization as Barack Obama's presidential campaign was in 2008.
Few campaigns have ever been as devoted to grass-roots organization as Barack Obama's presidential campaign was in 2008. (Linda Davidson)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 5:10 PM

As Republicans dither, debating who is and who isn't in the 2012 race for the White House, President Obama and his team are moving swiftly to dive into the business of winning reelection.

No office space has yet been rented. No committee has been formed. No official announcement date has been locked down. But by sometime next month, the president's team is likely to be a functioning, legal entity with a plan.

That should send a message to potential Republican candidates, who have spent the winter trying to convince themselves that they can wait and wait and perhaps wait some more before they get moving. Obama's team believes otherwise. They know what time and effort are required to build a robust organization capable of winning a general election - and how important the work done this year will be.

The president has already made the pivot. After the midterm shellacking, he has repositioned himself, moving to the center when needed (the tax deal with the Republicans late last year) while keeping a close eye on his restive liberal base (winning the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and announcing that his Justice Department would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act).

He has rebuilt his White House around his new chief of staff, Bill Daley, and his 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, with Vice President Biden continuing to play a central role. The new White House team is steadier and more strategically focused than it was before the midterms - although whether it can win the budget battles with congressional Republicans is another matter.

The next piece to fall into place will be the campaign operation. The Chicago-based reelection team will be under the direction of campaign manager Jim Messina, who recently stepped down as White House deputy chief of staff. David Axelrod, who has returned to Chicago after two years as senior adviser to the president, will again play the central role he did four years ago.

In due course, the Obama campaign operation will be fully staffed and humming. At this point, it has studied the reelection campaigns of previous presidents. The campaign advisers understand their challenges and have ideas about how to deal with them.

Obama's team, anticipating a closely fought general election, is focused on the key components of campaign machinery: money, organization and strategy. (The message was laid out in the president's State of the Union address - win the future - and will evolve with events).

Start with money. Obama raised about $750 million in his 2008 campaign, an astounding amount. There has been talk, still speculative, that he might be the first $1 billion candidate in 2012.

While grass-roots money will continue to be significant, one of the Obama team's first priorities is to build up its stable of major donors and fundraisers. Messina is already at work on this task. A sign of the importance attached to major donors is the designation of Julianna Smoot, the 2008 finance director who served briefly as White House social secretary, as one of two deputy campaign managers for the reelection.

The other deputy campaign manager is Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, who will move from her post at the Democratic National Committee to oversee the rebuilding of Obama's grass-roots army.

Few campaigns have ever been as devoted to grass-roots organization as Obama's. Perhaps inspired by the president's roots as a community organizer, his political operation is infused with almost missionary zeal about the power of people coming together - aided by new technology and social-networking resources.

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