WASHINGTON — Just three hours afterPresident Obama announced that he was defying Congressional Republicans to fill a high-level regulatory position while lawmakers were out of town, Mitt Romney sent out the obligatory news release ripping the president. “Chicago-style politics at its worst,” Mr. Romney fumed, accusing the president of “circumventing Congress.”
The statement was just what the White House wanted. It put the Republican presidential front-runner squarely on the side of the Republicans in Congress, a group with toxic poll numbers that the president’s campaign hopes will hurt his rivals for the White House.
“Our presidential election campaign is not a campaign against Congress,” a senior administration official said on Thursday. “We know we’ll run against a person.” But insofar as Mr. Obama has decided to target Republicans in Congress — a body with historically low approval ratings after a year of jousting with the president — he will also be seeking to twin his opponent, to any extent he can, with the 112th Congress.
Upon the president’s return from Hawaii, the Obama campaign this week unleashed a carefully scripted and deliberately aggressive strategy that showed a White House in combative re-election mode as the president and his advisers sought to ensure that the Republicans did not get all the political limelight. Mr. Obama inserted himself into the media blitz of what was supposed to be an all-Republican show, the Iowa caucuses, when his campaign took out a huge advertisement on the home page of The Des Moines Register on caucus day and he spoke by video conference to Democrats gathered in the state.
“The Republican candidates are leaving Iowa. But their terrible plans are here to stay,” was the declaration that greeted readers who went to the newspaper’s Web site to get caucus updates.
On Wednesday, after waiting until the dust in Iowa had settled, clearing out space in newspapers and on television, Mr. Obama delivered another jab, announcing four recess appointments, including that of Richard Cordray as head of a new consumer protection agency, despite Republican opposition. On Thursday, the president went to the Pentagon and outlined a new military strategy that embraces hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to what is a Republican sacred cow, and made it clear that American ground forces would no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Friday, he will take a victory lap with Mr. Cordray in a visit with the staff of the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
White House and administration officials insist that all of Mr. Obama’s actions this week — with the exception of the advertisement — are policy decisions made for the good of the country. But from Marine One — the helicopter where Mr. Obama and Mr. Cordray revved up on Wednesday for the forthcoming fight — to the West Wing corridors to his campaign offices in Chicago, the president’s battle for re-election is quickly escalating as he sets out to use the advantages of his office to full effect.
The president’s move last fall to take his jobs plan on the road to try to sell it to the American public, an effort that culminated in the payroll taxextension battle that is now widely perceived as a win for Mr. Obama and a debacle for Congressional Republicans, was just the beginning, administration officials and Mr. Obama’s advisers say.