On Caucus Night, Obama Playbook Primed for Campaign

No matter who wins the Iowa Republican Caucus tonight, President Barack Obama begins 2012 with a well-primed campaign playbook backed by an unrivaled national field operation and war chest ready to bombard the GOP nominee.

A top-tier caucus finish - or outright victory - by frontrunner Mitt Romney would affirm expectations of top Obama aides that the former Massachusetts governor is on the road to clinching the nomination and would ratchet up the urgency behind their prepared battle plan.

If a non-Romney candidate were to win the caucus, Obama's early campaign strategy likely remains the same, continuing to create sharp contrasts with the Republican field while enjoying what aides describe as an advantage from an unsettled and drawn-out nominating process.

Either way, Obama can boast of a national grassroots organizing apparatus that crisscrosses every state - unmatched by any of the Republican candidates - and more than $86 million in campaign funds raised from a base of more than 1 million supporters.

While the president faces significant re-election challenges with a lagging economy and a disaffected electorate, he still holds an edge in the latest national polls over his potential general election rivals.

Obama leads Romney by 5 points, 47 to 42 percent, in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last month. And he tops Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul by 9 points each, 50 to 41 percent, when voters were asked to choose as if the election were held today.

But Obama is taking nothing for granted, jumping right into campaign season after his 10-day Hawaiian vacation, seeking to build momentum for his re-election effort with an exclusive video webcast with Iowa Democrats as they caucus across the state.

Tomorrow he'll hit the road for an official visit to the crucial battleground state of Ohio, where aides say he will acknowledge the new, post-Iowa-caucuses phase of the campaign, but focus primarily on honing his economic message for the months ahead.

Senior administration officials characterize the approach as something of a caucus-proof strategy - one that is disciplined, focused and methodical, forging ahead regardless of the results in early GOP caucus and primary states, with a focus on official business and a campaign to claim the mantle of " warrior for the middle class."

"We're going to begin 2012 when it comes to the president's message, we're going to be doubling down on our commitment and our message in terms of fighting for the middle class," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest last week.

Earnest added, with the ring of a campaign slogan in the making, that Obama wants "to ensure that everybody in America gets a fair shake, that everybody gets a fair shot, and that everybody pays their fair share."

Aides stress that events like the one the president will hold in Cleveland tomorrow to highlight and advocate for his economic plans are not political, though the trip in the immediate wake of the Iowa caucus bears unmistakable overtones to a political one.

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