Obama Staffs Up for Reelection Campaign

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President Obama's reelection campaign has kicked off: Virtually all White House political functions will be transferred to the Democratic National Committee and to the campaign itself, which will be run by Jim Messina, the president's deputy chief of staff, and operate out of an as-yet-to-be-determined office building in Chicago.

Among the staff moves confirmed today: White House social secretary Julianna Smoot, one of Obama's earliest fundraisers, will lead the reelection's finance effort as a deputy campaign manager. Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, who ran the campaign's targeting team in the 2008 election and now serves as executive director at the DNC, will oversee field and politics as another deputy manager. White House political director Patrick Gaspard will become the DNC's executive director, and his shop -- eight staff members in total -- will be transferred over to the party committee. The moves were first reported by The New York Times.


DNC Chairman Tim Kaine wrote in an e-mail to party members today that Gaspard "understands the importance of grassroots politics and team building. He is someone with whom I have worked closely and I look forward to working with him even more closely at the DNC."

But first things first.

"They really have to do nothing but raise money this year," one of Obama's top fundraisers said today. The fundraiser, who has spoken with Messina this week, said that Obama intends to raise at least as much money as he did for the 2008 general election, and intends to secure commitments from donors to raise at least $250 million by the beginning of 2012.

Officials have also been sending quiet signals that they would not object to the formation of an independent expenditure group because they fear that Republicans will exploit campaign finance laws to attack the president from outside the boundaries of a formal campaign. That's a change from 2008, when David Plouffe froze out interest groups in order to concentrate money and messaging in the campaign.

Organizing For America, the remnant of the reelection campaign, has assiduously pored over its fundraising and volunteer databases and will spend months building volunteer corps for targeted states.

Formally, no one will be able to work on the president's campaign until he files documents with the Federal Election Commission. That's scheduled for April, and will probably not be accompanied by any pomp and circumstance.

"I think it's likely that that's going to happen," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said when asked if the president was running for reelection in today's press briefing. "The president is likely to file papers in the future that would officially make him a candidate. But I think it's safe to say that we've started and we've made some progress on getting our economy back in order and I think the president wants to continue to do that."

Like President George W. Bush but unlike President Bill Clinton, Obama's campaign reelection team will be made up of familiar faces. The fundamental authors of the president's narrative, strategy, and world view remain the same: Messina, Plouffe, David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, and Valerie Jarrett. They'll change geography, they'll change jobs, they'll change titles -- but they remain in charge.

The contrast with Clinton is dramatic. Preparing for 1996, Clinton ousted from his inner circle the team that brought him to the White House: pollster Stan Greenberg, advertising consultant Mandy Grunwald, and campaign strategists James Carville and Paul Begala.  

George W. Bush promoted his political director, Ken Mehlman, to campaign manager, and Karl Rove oversaw daily morning conference calls between the campaign and a series of White House officials.

For Obama's effort, Plouffe will be the sole conduit between the DNC, the campaign, and the White House -- letting the rest of the executive office of the president do its thing.

Although senior advisers discussed the changes with The New York Times, two declined to extrapolate on the record, citing their desire to communicate with major Democratic donors, for whom the Times remains the paper of record.

"It's time to launch this thing," a top political aide said. "We can't do it from the White House." Some donors had gotten nervous about the lack of direct communication about the reelection effort, and the White House decided to make public Messina's efforts now to reassure them.

A final wave of personnel announcements are expected soon from the White House. They will include an expansion of the president's Office of Cabinet Affairs, which the president wants done in order to increase the involvement of his Cabinet in governing. That office had declined in importance under recent presidents but was more powerful in the 1980s under President Reagan.

As for a theme, Kaine may have given a preview in his e-mail: "The important achievements of the year-end congressional session give us hope that we can continue to move America forward. We can also be proud that our president responded to the terrible tragedy in Arizona in a way that comforted those directly affected by the tragedy and inspired the nation with his challenge that we all seek to fulfill the expectations of Christina Taylor Green, the remarkable 9-year old aspiring public servant who died waiting to meet her congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords."


Thumbnail image credit: TushyD/Flickr

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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