Obama takes aim at second term
Washington - President Barack Obama on Monday urged supporters to rebuild the energetic grass-roots powerbase that swept him to power on a wave of hope, in a subdued launch to his 2012 re-election bid.
Four years after beginning an audacious tilt at history, Obama is a greying incumbent battered by multiple crises and admits forging change is tough, in marked contrast to the euphoric "Yes We Can" rhetoric of his 2008 campaign.
"We've...known that lasting change wouldn't come quickly or easily. It never does," Obama wrote in an email to supporters after becoming the first openly declared candidate for 2012.
Obama's move will allow him to start piling up cash for the 2012 race, for a warchest that could approach $1bn, but the White House said that right now he was focused not on a second term but solving America's problems.
In an ironic counterpoint to his announcement, the US Justice Department showed how tough it can be to honour lofty campaign promises, announcing September 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be tried at Guantanamo Bay.
'Protect the progress'
Obama had vowed to close the camp within a year after taking office, but encountered fierce opposition in Congress, and it now appears the war-on-terror facility will remain open indefinitely.
Urging supporters to "protect the progress we've made", Obama sent out a video showing heartland Americans lauding the change wrought in his first term.
In one shot, an older, white voter named Ed from South Carolina previewed a campaign effort to convince voters who polls show often like Obama the person more than his policies.
"I don't agree with Obama on everything, but I respect him and I trust him," the man said.
Obama's new campaign logo includes the famous image of a rising sun used in 2008, this time nestled in the "0" in 2012.
On www.barackobama.com, supporters could snap up a new range of branded merchandise, including 2012 badges, bumper stickers, mugs and tee shirts, bearing the names of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
'We need the same energy'
Biden was Monday in the key electoral state of New Hampshire, and urged a crowd to recreate the electricity that helped he and Obama triumph over Republican John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin in 2008.
"The truth is we need the same energy," he said, adding "we plan on winning New Hampshire in 2012."
Republicans quickly previewed their 2012 line of attack.
Possible candidate Tim Pawlenty issued a frenetic web ad shot in the style of a thriller, playing on one of Obama's favourite slogans.
"How can America win the future, when we're losing the present?" Pawlenty asked.
Mitt Romney, a failed 2008 contender mulling another go in 2012, seized on the administration's reversal in the Mohammed case to slam Obama's leadership.
"An inexperienced and naive president has finally reversed himself on Guantanamo and terrorist trials; let's hope he sees the light on his other flawed policies," Romney said in a statement.
Despite the constant crises surrounding his White House, Obama, 49, appears in reasonable shape 19 months from polling day, partly due to a Republican field that seems to lack an heir apparent.
But though many of America's problems predated his presidency, Obama is now the face of his nation's slow economic rebound and diminished clout abroad.
There was a ray of hope however for the president last week - a dip in the unemployment rate to 8.8% suggested the economy, which is almost always crucial in US elections, is speeding up.
Obama will also brandish a record as a genuine reformer, after passing a historic health care law and a bill curtailing Wall Street excess.
Viable approval rating
But the health care law remains divisive and Republicans have vowed to repeal it.
Polls show Obama's approval rating in the high 40s, hardly a stellar endorsement from voters but still viable considering the tough times, and he beats Republicans in most polls.
The Republican Party has been dragged right of the crucial political centre ground by the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement and may find it tough to nominate a candidate with all-round appeal.
The crop of possible Republican candidates also includes former speaker Newt Gingrich, Alabama Governor Haley Barbour, folksy Mike Huckabee and outgoing US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.
Palin has yet to tip her hand, but her popularity seems sullied these days and a new female star is emerging: Tea Party favourite Michele Bachmann.