Four years ago, Barack Obama was the upstart freshman senator, off on a long-shot quest to become the most powerful man in the world.
Now he’s President Obama, The Man, the insider, the politician with the machine looking for four more years. Can he recapture the magic of his historic election 2-1/2 years ago? Does he need to?
The short answer, analysts say, is no and no. It’s well nigh impossible to capture lightning in a bottle twice, but that doesn’t matter. As the sitting president of the United States, Mr. Obama goes into his reelection bid – announced Monday morning via e-mail and Web video – with all the advantages and disadvantages of an incumbent.
“This is a very standard case of: ‘My agenda is not yet complete. In a second term, I’ll be able to do more great things,’ ” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Instead of taking the field by storm, as he did in 2007, “this is more grind it out,” Mr. Jillson continues. “He’s already president of the United States. People already have formed opinions. It’s not hope and change anymore. It’s, can Obama’s program continue slowly to create economic recovery and get the country back on its feet and restore confidence.”
Still, it’s clear from Obama’s 2012 announcement video that bringing back some of that magic – even if a paler version – is essential to his reelection chances. Obama himself barely appears in the video, and when he does, it’s not as president, but as a candidate in 2007.
Instead, the focus is on the grass roots, the regular folks he will need to work for him again. His video features interviews with representatives of the demographics and/or swing states that put him over the top last time: a Latina from Nevada, a black woman from Michigan, a white man from North Carolina, a young white woman from Colorado, a young man from New York who is now just old enough to vote.
"We're doing this now because the politics we believe in does not start with expensive TV ads or extravaganzas, but with you – with people organizing block-by-block, talking to neighbors, co-workers, and friends,” Obama says in his e-mail. “And that kind of campaign takes time to build. So even though I'm focused on the job you elected me to do, and the race may not reach full speed for a year or more, the work of laying the foundation for our campaign must start today."
What Obama doesn’t say is that it’s also time to start raising the big bucks. And by filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission this week, his top fundraisers can now start hauling in the pledges. Obama is expected to top his $750 million record from 2008 and raise upwards of $1 billion.
Without a primary challenger, that all goes for the general election. Obama’s campaign website, www.barackobama.com, is also open for business.
The prospective Republican field, meanwhile, is large and diffuse – but barely a handful have formally announced, which makes them able to raise presidential campaign money. Even Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, still has not launched his exploratory campaign, and so is missing an opportunity to fundraise off the Obama campaign announcement.
Even if Obama heads into the 2012 campaign as the odds-on favorite, reelection is by no means a sure thing. Republicans were quick to jump on his announcement, arguing that to launch his reelection campaign in a week when the government may shut down over a budget impasse is inappropriate.
“President Obama's reelection campaign is off and running, meaning once again the president is putting politics ahead of the work of the people,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said Monday in a statement “... As the debt and reckless spending championed by this administration threatens to snuff out the recovery and future job growth, the President's conscious decision to take a back seat on leadership is downright irresponsible.”
The RNC also launched a fundraising site – www.hopeisnthiring.com – and ad in response to Obama.
“How can America win the future when we're losing the present?" Mr. Pawlenty said, over a dramatic soundtrack and images of houses for sale, gasoline prices over $4, and “going out of business” signs.
But the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, is handing Obama and the Democrats a political gift by releasing his proposed budget on Tuesday. Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” he said his plan would cut more than $4 trillion over the next decade without raising taxes.