WASHINGTON (AP) — In campaign mode for months, President Barack Obama is making his quest for a second term official with rallies in Ohio and Virginia while casting Republican rival Mitt Romney as a flip-flopping protector of the rich.
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The events Saturday at two universities, Ohio State and Virginia Commonwealth, were billed as the official kickoff of Obama’s re-election bid, even though he’s been solidly engaged in his campaign and filed the necessary paperwork to seek re-election over a year ago.
During the stops, the president will work to convince voters that his policies have put the nation’s economy on more solid footing despite fresh evidence that the job market remains weak. He also is expected to try to define Romney as a candidate peddling old policies for both the economy and national security that are proven failures.
Obama has already headlined dozens of high-dollar fundraisers around the country as his campaign seeks to build a solid money advantage over Romney. And in his official White House travels, often to battleground states, the president has been pitching policy positions that fit neatly into the campaign’s central theme of economic fairness, from a millionaires’ tax to freezing student loan interest rates.
But official campaign rallies are likely to free Obama up to take more direct aim at his GOP challenger. Until now, Obama has used Romney’s name sparingly, often choosing instead to cloak his criticisms of Romney in attacks against generic Republicans.
Some Democrats see Saturday’s rallies as an opportunity for Obama to put Republicans on notice that he plans to be an aggressor in his fight for re-election.
“What we’ve seen too many times in the past is Democrats are way too meek in defining their opponents or defining themselves in an election,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist. “This president is not going to let the Republicans define him.”
Campaign officials tamped down expectations that the new campaign speech Obama was unveiling Saturday would differ greatly from what he’s already been saying in fundraisers or what his surrogates have been saying on the campaign trail.
David Axelrod, an Obama senior adviser, said the president wasn’t a candidate who “reinvents himself week to week” – a shot at Romney’s sometimes shifting positions. Instead, he and other advisers said the president would reinforce his campaign’s broader themes of Obama as an advocate for the middle class and Romney as the candidate for the wealthiest Americans.