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Obama team plans for 2011 – and for 2012

Obama and his senior staff are hard at work on the size and shape of his White House team as they prepare for the 2012 elections. He hopes to spend more time outside of Washington.

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"He had to spend almost every waking hour in Washington working on solving that [economic] crisis," senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "And what he missed sorely was engagement with the American people.”

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If he’s able to do that, it serves two important purposes: Personal lobbying on behalf of policy issues, particularly now that Republicans have taken over the House of Representatives and increased their power in the Senate, while also reconnecting with voters – as he did so charismatically during the 2008 campaign.

"We're determined in the new year to make sure that his schedule reflects his priority,” Jarrett said.

The political landscape has changed dramatically in the past two years.

The tea party movement has shaken up both major parties – Republicans perhaps more so than Democrats. Economic improvement (especially employment) has inched along. The war in Afghanistan has escalated.

Obama can claim significant victories in recent weeks – a deal on taxes and unemployment compensation, an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell” and gays serving in the military, ratification of the START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, and help for 911 first responders. (Not bad during a lame-duck period – especially for a guy who acknowledges he took a “shellacking” in the midterm elections.)

Before that there was financial industry reform, economic stimulus measures, a new consumer protection agency, a tougher food safety law, and most controversially health-care reform.

Obama has not been able to win the bipartisanship in Washington he pledged to bring about. But his achievements have included compromises with congressional Republicans – not always what his Democratic base wanted to see.

But his movement toward a sort of domestic realpolitik – call it “triangulation” or not – increases his chances for reelection.

One hint: His approval rating among liberal Democrats has inched down a bit, according to Gallup’s most recent findings, but they edged up a notch among moderate/liberal Republicans. If he can reclaim and hold the political middle ground, he’ll have a better chance in 2012.

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