“The 2012 campaign is underway.”
So says President Obama, in the one of two television advertisements produced by this re-election campaign that are airing in a few markets this week.
Yet to hear White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tell it, Obama isn’t spending much time whatsoever thinking about his re-election bid.
How much time is he focused on the campaign on a given day? Carney was asked at his daily briefing Tuesday.
“On a given day? I can’t do it on a given day,” Carney replied. “I would say on a given week about 5 percent of his time.”
Which is remarkable, considering the president is spending virtually all of Wednesday campaigning, or at least coming close. He travels to Scranton, Pa., in a key corridor of a critical battleground state to make his latest pitch for a portion of his jobs plan.
Then, Obama will head to three fundraisers in New York City on Wednesday night.
Although Obama has been traveling almost exclusively to swing states since launching his jobs tour in September, the White House has been working hard to counter the perception that the president is mixing official White House business with an eye on the election.
Take Virginia, for example. The president launched his jobs tour with a speech before college students in Richmond, and he made a swing through the southern portion of the state on a bus tour that also included North Carolina, another swing state.
But Carney dismissed the notion that the stops were political, even though Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964 and would desperately like to carry it again.
Rather, Carney said, Obama shows up in Virginia because it’s close.
“Virginia is 10 minutes away from the Oval Office,” Carney said, ignoring the fact that Richmond is more than 100 miles away. “Every president, including this one, makes a lot of visits to Virginia to get out of Washington. This president has. Because he also happened to have won Virginia in 2008, it is now viewed as a battleground state.”
A Wall Street Journal story this week concluded that Obama has traveled more often during his tenure to swing states than his predecessors did during theirs. By doing so, Obama’s critics have said, the president has politicized the White House by constantly campaigning. During his jobs tour over the past three months, for example, Obama has been to Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Michigan and Pennsylvania — all swing states — more than once apiece. He also has raised money in Florida and Missouri, as well as solidly blue California and New York and solidly red Texas.
But the White House has made the case that Obama, by virtue of winning so many states in 2008 that had gone to George W. Bush in the previous two elections, is being unfairly criticized because he has made so many more states competitive. If he were forced to stay away from those states, Carney said, the president would not have many places he would be allowed to go.
“Every president ought to be able to travel everywhere in the country,” Carney said. “It’s part of his responsibility, serving the American people, to get out and be among them and to speak with them about his agenda or her agenda. This president will continue to do that.”