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Off to the races

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Barack ObamaBy Camille Elhassani

Barack Obama has become the first person to announce a campaign for the presidency next year. 

It was a foregone conclusion that he'd run for office again, and the timing of the announcement 19 months before the election is on par with other past incumbent presidents. 

What's unusual this year is that Obama has no Republican challenger yet. At this time in 2007, the year before the last presidential race, more than a dozen Republicans and Democrats had declared their candidacies.
 
Obama made the announcement with a Monday morning email directly to his supporters and a two-minute web video entitled "It Begins with Us".  The video features a number of supporters from swing states critical to winning, offering their thoughts about the future. Gladys from Nevada says "it's an election we have to win."
 
Billion dollar campaign

The official announcement and accompanying paperwork allows Obama to begin fundraising. The 2012 campaign is widely expected to be the first $1bn campaign in history. Obama’s announcement before any of his challengers allows him to build up his coffers while the Republicans are still thinking about running.
 
No Republican has officially declared a run for the presidency. The Republican field is disorganised, and there's no immediate frontrunner. The first debate amongst the potential candidates scheduled for May at the Ronald Reagan Library had to be postponed because there weren't enough contenders. Some of those who say they're considering a bid are Mitt Romney, who lost the nomination to John McCain in 2008, Michelle Bachman, congresswoman from Minnesota and Tea Party favourite, and Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota. Pawlenty responded to Obama's announcement with his own web video. In it he asks, "How can America win the future, when we're losing the present?"
 
The main issue in the 2012 election will once again be the economy. While the economy has added jobs and the recession is technically over, the green shoots aren't showing up in many Americans lives. Obama's approval ratings, largely tied to the economy, have hovered around 45 per cent for a few months. Compared to other incumbent presidents running for reelection in the recent past, that's neither low nor high, and might end up being just right.
 
In the email that accompanied the video, Obama tells his supporters why he thinks he should have a second term: "We've always known that lasting change wouldn't come quickly or easily. It never does. But as my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we've made - and make more - we also need to begin mobilising for 2012."
 
Unfulfilled promises

But he doesn't address the promises he made in 2008 that he hasn't kept – like closing the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay and passing comprehensive immigration reform. He also committed more troops to Afghanistan, to the chagrin of some of his supporters on the political left.
 
While he officially declared his candidacy on Monday, president Obama has been organising his re-election team for months. There’s been a reshuffling of staff at the White House. Many have gone back to Chicago to begin the re-election process, He has done several fundraisers for the Democratic Party already this year, and he will be doing more for his own campaign.
 
Over the next few months, the Republican field will solidify. Whichever Republican gets the nomination in next year's primary contest, the incumbent president has an advantage by raising money first, getting organised ahead of anyone else, and of course the fact that he already has the job.

Camille Elhassani is Al Jazeera English's Senior White House Producer.


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