WASHINGTON -- President Obama -- who, as I scooped on Thursday, will register as a 2012 re-election candidate with the Federal Election Commission as early as today -- starts his bid for a second term with a series of challenges -- including finding a theme as authentic as the "Hope" and "Change" that fueled his 2008 presidential contest.
Obama campaign insiders have been targeting an April 4 launch for months -- and if the plan holds, I'm told it is possible that Obama himself will do a 2012 conference call with supporters -- including his best fund-raisers -- with texts and and e-mails also going out to backers. Vice President Biden, in New Hampshire on Monday, is scheduled to do a political event with the Democratic National Committee's grassroots and netroots wing, Organizing for America, spawned from the 2008 Obama for America organization.
After a tough two years -- with Obama battered over a climbing jobless rate -- he officially launches his 2012 drive with unemployment dropping in March to 8.8 percent. The biggest threat to Obama's re-election has always been a lack of jobs -- an issue that transcends ideology, race, sex, gender, religion and every other divide.
I've been interviewing Obama insiders and outside observers about Obama's 2012 challenges and learned:
† The Obama 2012 operation has to rebuild Obama's popularity with independents -- without alienating or dispiriting Obama's core Democratic base of union activists and progressives who were crucial to his 2008 win.
Obama has to "reach out to independents, that's the key to winning in 2012," Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile told Candy Crowley Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana state Republicans overplaying their hands with anti-union legislation has been a wake-up call for union members -- and an organizing bonanza for Obama.
† Obama's slogan, "Winning the Future" is not going to go away -- but will need to be supplemented or melded with a theme that can energize voters the way "Hope" and "Change" did in 2008. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's 2010 re-election campaign -- faced with the same message challenge -- came up with this: "We worked hard four years ago to change the guard. Now it's time to guard the change." I can see folks chanting "Guard the Change" the same way they did "Yes We Can" four years ago.
Republicans -- from the establishment to the Tea Party wing -- may be hitting Obama, but they then will have to deal with a persistent pessimistic message -- leaving Obama to be relentlessly optimistic that there are better times ahead -- even if the road to get there is tough.
† A priority is to re-engage the youth voters who were critical to Obama in 2008. Young voters stayed home in 2010 and there is a new generation of youths who were not old enough to vote in 2008. A poll released Thursday by Harvard's Institute of Politics finds Obama's standing with 18-to-29-year-olds improving, up six points since October to 55 percent. The story for Obama is upbeat on four-year college campuses, according to the IOP survey: Obama has a 60 percent approval rating with this group, up nine points since October.
† Obama will start the campaign with a focus on fund-raising, with a goal to raise more than the $750 million collected in 2008. While the $1 billion figure has been tossed around, remember that Obama faces no primary -- and not having to bankroll a run against Hillary Rodham Clinton can save millions upfront.
Obama hits Chicago on April 14 for three fund-raisers -- the biggest on Navy Pier -- with Los Angeles and San Francisco stops on April 20 and 21.