Obama to kick off campaign in Ohio, Virginia

Julie Pace

WASHINGTON (AP) — Diving into campaign mode full-bore, President Barack Obama will headline his first re-election rallies next week, marking an important turning point in the race for the White House.

The president will hit the campaign trail in back-to-back rallies May 5 in Ohio and Virginia, the Obama campaign said Wednesday. Obama carried both battleground states in the 2008 election and will likely need to win there again in November if he wants to hold on to his job.

Michelle Obama, the popular first lady, was to join the president at the rallies, which will be held on the campuses of Ohio State University in Columbus and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

With Mitt Romney now assured of the Republican Party’s nomination, Obama couldn’t afford to stand off to the sidelines much longer in what is shaping up to be a close contest.

Even the White House, which has been loath to engage fully in the election as it seeks to project a focus on the day-to-day business of governing, acknowledged Wednesday that the general election was in full-swing. White House spokesman Jay Carney, referring to the GOP contest, declared that “the race is over on that side.

For Obama, the campaign rallies could serve as a way to energize his base, especially the young voters on the campuses where the events will be held. But they also break down the barrier the White House has tried to maintain between the president and the political bickering on the campaign trail.

That barrier has been thin at best. Obama has for months been wooing donors at campaign fundraisers across the country, building up a sizeable money advantage over Romney. And Obama’s official events have often had a campaign vibe, with Air Force One landing in swing state after swing state and crowds breaking into chants of “four more years.”

Campaign officials made clear that Obama planned to try to poke holes in what Romney sees as his greatest strength, his record as a job-creator as both a private sector business leader and governor of Massachusetts. But David Axelrod, the campaign’s senior adviser, said the president’s message would not differ greatly on the campaign trail from what he has been saying at official events, as he seeks to draw a contrast between his vision for the nation’s economic future and that of the Republican Party.

—Julie Pace, Associated Press