WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle kick off their first official campaign events May 5 with Ohio and Virginia rallies while Mitt Romney, with the primary over, pivots to the November battle for the White House, scrambling to build a national operation.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina and top strategist David Axelrod said in a Wednesday evening conference call with reporters plans for the battleground state stops at Ohio State University in Columbus and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond have been in the works for “a while.”
Said Messina, “Welcome to the general election.” Axelrod said Obama will “ramp up” as his schedule allows.
Shortly after the call, the Obama campaign sent out a text about the rallies with an offer: “Sign up the chance to join [Obama] backstage.”
Obama’s Chicago-based campaign has been running for a year, with hundreds on the payroll, part of vast field, digital, research, media and fund-raising operations, working in concert with the White House and the Democratic National Committee.
With primaries behind him – capped by winning five states on Tuesday – Romney’s Boston headquarters is quickly expanding nationally. There is a formal vice presidential search process in place, more hires coming aboard and a formal partnership starting with the Republican National Committee now that Romney is officially the presumptive nominee.
Romney returns to the Chicago area on May 15 for fund-raising. Here’s what I’m told to watch for in the days ahead as the Romney campaign goes national:
â€ A much bigger role for Ann Romney. Within the next few weeks, she will begin to have her own independent schedule. Most events she’s done in recent days have been with her husband. At present, Mrs. Romney has no paid staff and one volunteer, Susan DuPrey, an attorney, whose husband, Steve, in 2008 traveled with GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
In contrast, first lady Michelle Obama has two staffs, one at the White House and another in Chicago.
â€ Romney will start to open fund-raisers to pool reporters. At present, Romney – whose campaign does not even routinely reveal his fund-raising events – closes everything to the press. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Mrs. Obama allow print pool coverage for “formal remarks,” and I’m told so will Romney.
â€ Stepped up “bracketing” of Obama events, a tactic used to try to prevent Obama – and the powerful pulpit of the presidency – from hogging all the free media.
Bracketing is a term used to describe a political rival showing up at an opponent’s event before and after to offer a “pre-buttal” or rebuttal. Romney’s team cranked up the bracketing effort after Rick Santorum dropped out. For example, when Biden delivered a speech in New Hampshire earlier in the month, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu did a “welcome to New Hampshire” press call.
â€ In 2008, Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) battled for the White House with neither an incumbent.
To try to erode Obama’s White House advantage, Republicans are complaining that Obama is campaigning on the taxpayer dime. RNC chair Reince Priebus on Wednesday sent a letter to federal authorities, asking them to investigate the Obama for America campaign.
The call for a probe I take as a bid to try to force the White House to stop branding battleground events as governmental – as the lines between official and political by now are blurred.
Axelrod said he was not going to get “hot and bothered by RNC stunts.”
For months, Obama, first lady Michelle and Biden have been focusing most of their official travel on the handful of key 2012 battleground states, combining government and political trips.
The official speech Obama delivered Wednesday to university students in Iowa was a stem-winder and in a setting that could well as been a campaign rally.
The DNC pays a portion of political travel, the price of a charter plane, which does not cover the vast expenses of a presidential entourage – to which the president, always on duty – is entitled.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush stumped for re-election on Air Force One.
And they won.