- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2011

President Obama kicked off the 2012 campaign Monday by officially filing as a candidate for re-election, but as he tries to reconstruct his winning 2008 coalition, he has some major repair work to do with political independents, who have turned on him.

Mr. Obama won the critical voting bloc by 8 percentage points in 2008, but polls now show that independents are dissatisfied with his job over the past two years, with 52 percent saying he doesn’t deserve a second term compared with 37 percent who say he does, according to a Quinnipiac University survey released last week.

In a campaign video announcing his bid, Mr. Obama made a nod to those voters by including a clip of a North Carolina man who said he doesn’t agree with the Democrat on everything.

“But I respect him and I trust him,” says the man, identified as Ed.

Mr. Obama’s announcement - the earliest of any modern sitting president - allows him to begin to raise money and hire staff for what could be the first $1 billion campaign operation.

“It’s all about motivation, which is why he’s starting so early,” University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato said. “The magic’s gone.”

The White House on Monday deflected questions about the re-election effort. Saying Mr. Obama is focused on his work as president, press secretary Jay Carney shrugged off his boss’s filing with the Federal Election Commission as a formality.

“The president is not focused on elections. He’s focused on doing the work that he was elected to do,” Mr. Carney told reporters.

Mr. Carney later said that “there is plenty of time well down the road for politics.”

Mr. Obama announced his re-election bid in an email and a video to his supporters. In the email, he said he wanted to strengthen the network of activists and donors who powered his 2008 campaign.

“We’ve always known that lasting change wouldn’t come quickly or easily. It never does. But as my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we’ve made - and make more - we also need to begin mobilizing for 2012, long before the time comes for me to begin campaigning in earnest,” he said.

The campaign is going to be based out of Chicago, where top staffers for Mr. Obama, including campaign manager Jim Messina, a former White House deputy chief of staff, and David Axelrod, a former senior adviser, have already migrated. The president is expected to kick off a slew of fundraisers with a Democratic National Committee event scheduled for April 14 in the Windy City.

Trying to capitalize on the announcement, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent its own fundraising email Monday touting Mr. Obama’s re-election bid as a reason to give.

“Our first day grassroots fundraising totals must be eye-popping,” Executive Director Robby Mook wrote. “Political pundits and our Republican opponents will view them as hard evidence of our determination and strength.”

Pollsters say that while Mr. Obama enters the campaign with voters well inclined toward him personally, they’re less enthusiastic about the policies he has pursued. Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said the president’s numbers have fallen across the board on issues including foreign policy and the federal budget deficit.

“He’s really at a crossroads point - he’s at his lowest point in the numbers,” Mr. Brown said.

Quinnipiac measured Mr. Obama’s overall disapproval rating at 48 percent to 42 percent, with 50 percent of voters saying he doesn’t deserve to be re-elected.

Still, Mr. Brown noted that the president does well among members of his base. Among Democrats, he garners approval of 80 percent.

“If he has a political problem, it is not with his base,” he said.

Mr. Obama is doing about as well as President George W. Bush did in spring 2003, but a 20-month time span leaves a lot of room for movement in poll numbers.

According to a March survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Mr. Bush was polling at 48 percent of the vote against a generic Democratic nominee’s 35 percent. Mr. Obama polls at 47 percent compared with 37 percent for an unidentified Republican.

Mr. Obama’s early re-election announcement stands in stark contrast to the Republican field, which has been slow to take shape. Only one major name, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, has filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC.

The slow momentum has forced the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to move its scheduled Republican candidates debate from May to September.

Mr. Sabato said much of Mr. Obama’s fortune depends on whom Republicans select and on the health of the U.S. economy. If the economy improves, Mr. Sabato said, the president’s re-election effort could resemble that of President Clinton in 1996 or President Reagan in 1984. Both men rebounded from a sluggish economy and sagging early poll numbers to win second terms.

Part of Mr. Obama’s campaign hinges on whether independent voters who support him show up on Election Day, he said.

“He has to make sure that the group of independents that show up in 2012 is much closer to the demographics of ‘08 than in 2010,” Mr. Sabato said of November’s congressional elections, which awarded Republicans control of the House and a greater presence in the Senate. “It was simply a different group of independents.”

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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