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For Obama, the campaign is wherever he is

By Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau –

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama zipped around his hometown Friday — hitting a string of fundraisers, visiting friends and checking his long-unoccupied house. But he did not stop by his campaign headquarters.

He doesn’t have to.

As he juggles foreign visitors, ceremonial duties and the usual tasks of sitting in the Oval Office, Obama remains in close contact with his re-election effort.

He spends many Sunday nights huddled with a small circle of advisers at the White House, going over strategy, ads and polling. He keeps abreast of political news on his iPad. And when he’s on the road, the president gets updates on Air Force One, in limousines, hotel rooms and backstage at events.

Obama normally travels about two days a week. These days, he squeezes as many campaign events as possible around his presidential appearances.

After giving a speech about the economy and veterans Friday morning in Minneapolis, for example, Obama attended three campaign fundraisers. Then he flew to Chicago for three more fundraisers, including a reception at the ornate Chicago Culture Center.

“This is going to be a very close race,” Obama told supporters at the Norwegian-themed Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis, hinting at the dismal jobs report released earlier in the day. “It’s going to be close because there’s a lot of folks out there who are having a tough time.”

As Obama planned his re-election effort last year, aides stressed the importance of distance from the trappings and toxic politics of Washington. The decision to base his re-election campaign in Chicago was billed as a rejection of so-called Beltway thinking, a reference to the capital’s traffic-clogged ring road, and a chance to be closer to voters.

Most recent presidents set up re-election offices near the White House or in Washington’s suburbs to keep close tabs on the operation. Obama’s decision reflects a more fundamental reality: The campaign is wherever he is.

When he phoned Mitt Romney on Wednesday to congratulate his opponent on securing the electoral votes needed to lock up the GOP nomination, for example, the president called from the West Wing.

Being president “does not lend itself to blocking out Monday and Wednesday for campaign work, and Tuesday, Thursday, Friday for official duties,” said Michael Feldman, a former top adviser to Vice President Al Gore, who was the Democratic nominee for president in 2000. “The infrastructure … goes with you.”

Obama gets direct updates from campaign manager Jim Messina. But Obama leaves most campaign dealings to David Plouffe, the political operator who helped him win the White House and now holds the title of senior adviser. Plouffe typically determines if a Sunday night or other briefing is necessary, and sometimes prepares Power Point presentations, aides say.

White House aides insist Obama is not consumed or distracted by the daily grind of campaign operations. Still, they say he is closely involved and getting ever more so as his race heats up.

“We do carve out time for him” to focus on the campaign, said one aide, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. “But he’s got official responsibilities that consume the vast majority of his time.”

Traveling without his wife and daughters on Friday, the president planned to sleep at his home in the leafy Kenwood neighborhood. Obama last checked it in January, when he swung by late at night and ran inside while his motorcade idled.

An aide said the president looked forward to sleeping in his own bed again — when he gets there, probably close to midnight, after the last fundraiser of the night.

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