As the president and first lady hit the campaign trail together today for their first public rallies of 2012, here are five things to watch that could make this a noteworthy day.
1. CAMPAIGNER-IN-CHIEF TAKES ON ROMNEY
President Obama has largely refrained from engagement with Mitt Romney directly by name. Look for that to change today. Obama has been studying up on Romney's positions and statements (most recently evidenced by his OBL comments at Monday's press conference) and is expected to more aggressively hammer the presumptive nominee on the auto bailout/manufacturing in Ohio and on social/women's issues in Virginia.
Obama will highlight a "stark contrast of the 'back to the future' approach of Gov. Romney," said senior strategist David Axelrod of the message.
2. OBAMAMANIA 2.0
Four years after "Obamamania" swept college campuses and across the country, we will get a glimpse of what the phenomenon looks like the second time around. The Obama campaign expects overflow crowds at both OSU and VCU as part of carefully orchestrated optics. Aides want to portray the president as still highly popular among young people and still able to energize large crowds.
Organizers have been touting the level of volunteerism and voter registration on the campuses ahead of the events. They also plan to feature "innovative" integration of social media into the rallies, much as they did at Invesco Field in 2008, by broadcasting selected tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram images on the big screens to boost interactivity and participation.
How organic is the enthusiasm and participation, and can it be sustained - particularly throughout the crucial organizing months of summer? Those are key questions for the months ahead.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina insists younger voters will still be a secret weapon in states like Ohio and Virginia, as long as they can get them out. "What people don't focus on is there's 8 million voters who are 18 to 21 who weren't old enough to vote last time and who are going to cast their first vote for Barack Obama," he said at the University of Pennsylvania late last year.
The much-critiqued new slogan for Obama-Biden 2012 - "Forward" - makes its debut today. We'll be looking for how it plays with the crowd, and whether it shows up emblazoned on any campaign swag. A seven minute campaign video by the same name will air at both events, illustrating what Team Obama bills as a positive economic and social trajectory in his first term.
"It's one word to basically encapsulate the campaign we're working to run," a campaign official said of the slogan. "We want to keep moving forward. We don't want to go back to the economic policies of the past."
Aides believe the "forward" argument effectively sells Obama's progress on the economy - including Friday's anemic jobs report - because some progress is better than none, and certainly better than going in the opposite direction.
4. FLASHBACKS: REPUBLICANS SURFACE '08 PROMISES TO COLUMBUS, RICHMOND
The Republican National Committee has resurfaced promises Obama made in Columbus, Ohio, and Richmond, Va., as a candidate in 2008 - and highlights the fact that they've been broken or unfulfilled. Among them are a pledge to half the deficit in his first term; keep former lobbyists out of his administration; reduce health insurance premiums; and change the tone in Washington. See the entire 12-page annotated memo.
It will be interesting to see whether the Obama's rhetoric today meets the standards he laid out on visits to the states in 2008.
"What we need now is not misleading charges and divisive attacks. What we need is honest leadership and real change, and that's why I'm running for President of the United States." (Richmond, Va., 10/22/08)
"More of the slash and burn, say-anything, do-anything politics that's calculated to divide and distract; to tear us apart instead of bringing us together. Well, that's not the kind of politics the American people need right now." (Columbus, Ohio 11/2/08)
5. FLOTUS FACTOR
The president and first lady rarely appear together on the road, but today they will - and it's not by accident. As the president often remarks in his official speeches, Mrs. Obama is incredibly popular and often draws applause just by the mention of her name. The latest ABC/Post poll puts her favorability rating well above her husband's at 69 percent.
Michelle Obama's role in the rallies and in the weeks ahead will be worth watching closely. "She can speak to the president's character and steady hand in times of crisis and she can tell stories about what his accomplishments have meant to millions of Americans," said Axelrod.
The first lady will introduce the president at both events.
Each rally is scheduled to last roughly two hours, including performances by local musicians, pep bands, presentations by students and volunteers, screening of several short campaign videos, and remarks by local Obama surrogates. President Obama's remarks are expected to run roughly 35 minutes at each site and be generally similar in content.
The Ohio State University (Obama speaks 1:20 p.m. ET). Guest speakers: Sen. Sherrod Brown, former astronaut and Sen. John Glenn, former Gov. Ted Strickland, Mayor Michael Coleman. Emcee: DJ Konata of Power 107.5 FM ("one of the main stays of Columbus radio").
Virginia Commonwealth University (Obama speaks 4:55 p.m. ET). Guest speakers: Rep. Bobby Scott, former Gov. and DNC chair Tim Kaine, Mayor Dwight Jones. Emcee: VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart.