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Another challenge facing Mr. Obama, as with most other second-term presidents, is the loss of key personnel. Among the top players leaving his team are Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. Second-term nominees “tend to be a little less exciting,” said John Aldrich, professor of political science at Duke University.

“By definition, it can’t be your first choice for secretary of state,” Mr. Aldrich said. “You already made that one. The biggest concern is a break in continuity, and that’s why there are appointments like [Jack] Lew” — a reference to Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, who has been nominated to replace Mr. Geithner at Treasury.

For the moment, Mr. Obama and his advisers believe they have the political momentum. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama “feels very deeply” about his second-term agenda for improving the economy, reforming the immigration system and reducing deficits in a “balanced” way, i.e. with a blend of tax hikes and spending cuts.

“He believes that we have work to do, and he believes that both the agenda he has put forward so far and the agenda he will put forward in the future will help this country move forward in a variety of ways,” Mr. Carney said.

A new Obama machine

The administration is being aided in advancing its early second-term agenda by the president’s campaign machinery, which is being transformed into a tax-exempt group by former campaign manager Jim Messina. Immediately after Mr. Obama introduced a package of gun control measures on Jan. 16, for example, Mr. Messina sent an email to millions of grass-roots supporters in the campaign’s database who had donated to the president’s re-election.

“People like you spoke out and demanded action,” Mr. Messina wrote. “Your input, along with ideas from leaders and policymakers across the political spectrum, went into the president’s plan. Learn more about the plan, and say you stand with President Obama in tackling this critical issue.”

The email provided a link to a Web page detailing the gun control proposals.

Federal Election Commission law required the Obama for America campaign to shut down after the election, but Mr. Messina said the social tools that were created by the campaign will remain active.

“People just spent five years winning two elections together,” he said shortly after the election. “They’re not now just going to walk away.”

Mr. Aldrich said there is little precedent for such a campaignlike operation working on behalf of a president’s second term, and it’s not clear how effective it will be on issues such as gun control, which Mr. Obama avoided studiously during his re-election bid.

“It’s not obvious how it’s going to transform [his base],” Mr. Aldrich said. “Gun control has not been central to his campaign.”

Mr. Obama’s team also understands that in the dubious history of second presidential terms, the opportunity to achieve anything significant is usually limited to the first year or so. After that, opponents tend to wait out the president, and his party usually loses seats in the congressional midterm elections.

By then, the jockeying is well under way in both parties among candidates hoping to replace the second-term president.

“Only rarely do second-term presidents retain their power through more than 18 months or so,” Mr. Zacher said.

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