WASHINGTON -- Campaigns are, for all intents and purposes, everlasting affairs, with preparations for the next run seeming to start the moment the last cycle ends. For the scorekeepers and historians, however, May 5, 2012, will officially mark the day in which the 2012 presidential election campaign begins between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
On that day, the president will make the first two official stops of his re-election campaign in Columbus, Ohio, and Richmond, Va.
"Good evening everyone," campaign manager Jim Messina declared Wednesday evening at the start of a conference call with reporters announcing the events. "Welcome to the general election."
For the president's critics, the announcement amounts to a distinction without much of a difference. The president has spent more time on the road recently in key electoral battleground states. Over the past few days, moreover, his events have sounded increasingly like that of a candidate seeking a second term in office. Indeed, just hours before Wednesday's announcement, the Republican National Committee filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office requesting a "formal inquiry into whether this pattern [of travel] constitutes fraud."
"That was part of the job of the presidency," chief strategist David Axelrod said of Obama's recent stops at universities to call on Congress to keep student loans in place. "We are not going to get hot and bothered by RNC stunts."
For Obama's political team in Chicago, important technical changes come with officially campaigning. The campaign will cover the cost of presidential campaign travel, which, considering the use of Air Force One, can be pricey. Messina cautioned during the call, however, that campaign travel wouldn't initially be extensive.
"This will be a ramp-up and not a zero-to-60 moment," Messina said. "We won't start doing a bunch of these rallies. These will be the first two and we will have more announcements for the rest of them coming up."
More than that, the president's political advisers suggested Obama's tone would become sharper, the barbs a bit tougher, and the rhetoric a touch more acidic in the weeks ahead.
"This is not going to be a one-way discussion," Axelrod told reporters, conveying the campaign's argument that Romney has had a free ride up to this point. "We have ... been building out a campaign for a year and have been planning to take this next step and ramp up to this next step for some time. And, so, we are fulfilling our plan for this campaign."
The Romney campaign, which put out a statement rebutting the call 10 minutes before it even began, responded with barbs of its own after the call's conclusion.
"Coverage of @BarackObama conference call confirms: campaign with no message or rationale for re-election," tweeted Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Republican.
Joining Obama on the campaign trip will be the First Lady, a more popular figure than the president. The two will address progress during Obama's first term as well as the platform they'd pursue for the next four years, the campaign said.
The choice of the opening forum is telling. Ohio and Virginia are, symbolically, the defining swing states of the pre-2008 and post-2008 electoral maps. Obama won each four years ago. Should he repeat the feat this year, it would likely prove enough for him to win a second term, though Messina (either confident or simply as a bluff) argued that Obama has other ways to get the electoral college votes to win.
"We believe there are even more pathways than there were before," Messina said, pointing to two polls in Arizona that had the president either tied or ahead. "What Governor Romney decides to do or doesn't do doesn't affect us at all. We have our pathways."