Obama’s Reelection Balancing Act

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President Obama rolls up his sleeves as he prepares to take questions from the audience at a town hall at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Virginia on April 19.

President Obama delivered a campaign speech today in northern Virginia at a town hall gethering. Now, it wasn’t billed as a campaign speech. Officially, the White House says that despite a schedule of fundraisers that has the president jetting around the country–California and Nevada later this week–the 2012 campaign is far from his mind. “The President is not focused on elections. He’s focused on doing the work that he was elected to do,” spokesman Jay Carney explained on April 4, the day Obama launched his new campaign. “There is plenty of time well down the road for politics, but he is focused on that.”

But separating politics from the speech Obama delivered in northern Virginia today is about as easy as removing the corn from Iowa. “For a long time, Washington acted like deficits didn’t matter,” Obama said, repeating a theme he began last week blaming Republicans for the current mess. “We cut taxes for everybody, including millionaires and billionaires.  We fought two wars and we created a new and expensive prescription drug program, and we didn’t pay for any of it.” He referred to Republicans as “some folks in Washington,” and suggested that their plans were not American. “That’s not who we are as a country,” he said. “We’re better than that.”

Then he made the pivot he will be making for the next year, switching from active participant to passive observer, from a man with a plan, fighting in the arena, to a spectator of squabbling children.

I believe that Democrats and Republicans can come together to get this done.  It won’t be easy.  There are going to be some fierce disagreements.  Shockingly enough, there will be some politics played along the way. There will be those who say that we’re too divided, that the partisanship is too stark.  But I’m optimistic.  I’m hopeful.  Both sides have come together before.  I believe we can do it again.

This is the balancing act Obama has chosen for the next several months. At a time when Republicans are still delaying an official start to the 2012 campaign, Obama has already launched his. He is striving to appeal to his base, with well worn Democratic themes that paint Republicans as disconnected coddlers of the wealthy, while appealing to independents by casting himself as the common-sense mediator in a city of rabid partisans. The two messages are not natural fits. But by dint of repetition, the White House hopes they soon dominate the public’s view of the president.

But for the plan to work, the White House has to keep denying the obvious: Obama’s public strategy is heavily focused on 2012. As NBC’s Chuck Todd pointed out Monday, the local interview schedule for the president this year has been heavily focused on potential 2012 swing states. He has given interviews to two news outlets in North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and one interview to a news outlet in Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Wisconsin and Texas. In short, he fund raises in blue states, and speaks to purple and red states.