Obama Finalizes Reelection Plans
A video announcement, a Chicago fundraiser, and a 'go' for independent ads.
By Marc Ambinder, National Journal
Updated: March 29, 2011 | 6:14 a.m.
President Obama is fewer than three weeks away from formally announcing his reelection campaign, and will make it public with an online video his aides will post on his new campaign website, Democratic sources familiar with the plans said.
Obama’s team will try to keep the exact date and time a surprise, letting supporters know first by text message and e-mail. By that point, Obama would have opened his campaign account with the Federal Election Commission.
But a major Democratic National Committee fundraiser is set for April 14 in Chicago, and Democratic donors are being told that it will coincide with the announcement. Obama will attend the event.
The campaign-in-waiting, led by manager Jim Messina, will use the announcement as a mechanism to organize online, test responses, and perhaps even solicit donations.
Obama advisers envision the next year as a series of phases. The first is to get the operation up and running.
Senior campaign officials are hiring the teams that will poll, broadcast ads, and conduct research.
Many faces will be the same.
Joel Benenson, the Democratic pollster, will once again serve as Obama’s lead surveyor. But a Democrat familiar with the matter said that Cornell Belcher will play a larger role in that operation than he did in 2008.
Larry Grisolano, who led the paid media effort in 2008, will take the same role in 2012, albeit with an elevated title. It is not clear, however, whether Jim Margolis, who created many memorable Obama television advertisements and videos in 2008, will lead the broadcast part of the team. David Axelrod, of course, remains the senior message-setter.
The DNC will serve as the primary vehicle to bracket Republicans, but they will do so selectively, picking spots, rather than comprehensively.
The campaign will spend the summer and fall building capacity. Bundlers will secure pledges from donors and the DNC’s Organizing for America arm will transition to electoral mode. The White House will lead the messaging effort—Obama will be presidential—and there will be few press releases from the campaign, save for the announcement of fundraising totals and staff hires.
Two former White House aides, Sean Sweeney and Bill Burton, are expected to form an independent political group that is expected to morph into the vehicle for outside expenditures during the campaign. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s loosening of campaign-finance laws, Obama’s team has decided that it will not unilaterally deprive itself of a weapon that Republicans used to batter Democrats in the 2010 election. In 2008, the Obama campaign strongly discouraged the formation of any outside group, preferring to centralize messaging inside a tight circle of advisers in Chicago.
But the threat matrix has changed. For 2012, the conservative Koch brothers have pledged to raise at least $88 million to fund an independent campaign to defeat Obama, and the independent group American Crossroads, with Karl Rove as an adviser, has said it wants to raise at least $130 million for the cycle. That's on top of the money that the Chamber of Commerce and other traditional Republican-leaning interest groups are likely to spend.
Democrats close to Obama's campaign believe it is entirely possible that these independent groups will begin to air their television ads within the next several months.
Obama advisers have spent a significant amount of time attempting to divine the future of campaign technology. There are, for example, cell phones that project video. They are ubiquitous in Japan. By 2012, they might be ubiquitous here. Social networks will become even more integrated into the day-to-day campaign operations than they were in 2008. Twitter and Tumblr, and other platforms, may become the primary means that the campaign uses to communicate with supporters and reporters, depending upon their market-penetration levels.
Since he left the White House in January, Messina has spent time meeting with organized Democratic interest groups. In 2008, these groups were asked to do little; in 2012, with a different political environment, they may play a larger role, particularly early on, in helping to keep the activist base of the party busy. He has also spent a considerable amount of time explaining the campaign’s theory of the case to Democratic donors, who were quite nervous about the lack of visible activity after the 2010 elections, but who seem to be calmer, as a class, headed into the spring. Patrick Gaspard, the executive director of the DNC, has written a plan to more fully integrate the interest groups into the DNC's reelection strategy
There are a few unknowns: Robert Gibbs, slated to be the campaign’s major surrogate, is seriously weighing an offer from Facebook. If he takes the job, he would probably not be able to participate in the campaign.
On Tuesday night, Obama attends two DNC fundraisers in New York.
President George W. Bush announced his reelection campaign in May of 2003 and broadcast his first television ad in March of 2004.