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Team Obama announces formal start of campaign

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will formally kick off his re-election campaign on May 5 with rallies in the swing states of Ohio and Virginia, Obama campaign officials announced Wednesday night.

The Obamas will appear at Ohio State University in Columbus and, later in the day, at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, in two states that campaign manager Jim Messina called "critical" to the president's bid for a second term.

"We feel like it's the right time to engage," Mr. Messina said.

David Axelrod, the campaign's senior strategist, told reporters on a conference call that Mr. Obama will continue to emphasize "the viability of the middle class" as his central campaign theme.

"It is the project that he is on," Mr. Axelrod said. "We're not the candidate who reinvents himself from week to week."

That was a shot at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who was virtually assured the nomination Wednesday when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced he would suspend his campaign.

Even as the Obama team was laying out its plans for reintroducing the Obamas to voters, the Romney campaign assailed Mr. Obama for "more diversion, distractions and distortions."

"President Obama has given us trillion-dollar deficits, 19 tax increases and record unemployment. No amount of spin from the Obama campaign can change those numbers," said Gail Gitcho, communications director for the Romney campaign. "If President Obama's record was as good as Mitt Romney's, he'd be running on it. Instead, he is running away from it."

Mr. Axelrod criticized Mr. Romney as someone "who hasn't had a job in six years," and promised to attack Mr. Romney's record as a venture capitalist.

"His business career was not about job creating, it was about wealth creation for himself and his partners," Mr. Axelrod said.

While Republicans view Ann Romney as a valuable asset to her husband on the campaign trail, Mr. Messina said Mrs. Obama, too, will help her husband's chances.

"She can speak to the president's character and his steady hand," he said.

The Obama campaign is still confident of its strategy for victory in November, Mr. Messina said. Ohio and Virginia were two of the states that had supported Republican George W. Bush twice, but which Mr. Obama flipped in 2008.

"We have our pathways," he said. "We know how we are going to get to 270 electoral votes."

Mr. Axelrod also brushed off questions about whether the president was pushing the envelope on federal campaign-finance laws by traveling around the country giving speeches promoting his message sandwiched in between fundraising events.

The Republican National Committee recently announced that it was filing a complaint about Mr. Obama's travel to universities in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa this week and calling on Congress to stop student-loan rates from doubling as scheduled.

"The president felt strongly that we should intervene in student-loan rates doubling," Mr. Axelrod said. "It's not a distraction for students across the country ... and Congress has begun to move on this issue, so the president has succeeded on moving the issue."

The campaign also refused to elaborate on how they reimburse the federal government for the cost of flying on Air Force One and other military aircraft when they take trips that are partially political in nature.

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