With term half done, Obama seeks second
Washington - US President Barack Obama passed the halfway point of his four-year term on Thursday and revealed he is already plotting to win a second, boosted by a sudden upswing in popularity.
Obama's spokesperson Robert Gibbs divulged the worst-kept secret in Washington, saying that his boss would "likely" ask voters to send him back to the White House in 2012.
"We've made some progress on getting our economy back in order, and I think the president wants to continue to do that," Gibbs said, adding that Obama would file official candidacy papers in the coming months.
Officials meanwhile gave the most detailed information yet about Obama's plans to set up his campaign headquarters in his home town of Chicago and to separate the machinery from the work of the White House in Washington.
The president plans to close the White House's political office and send his deputy chief of staff Jim Messina to run the campaign, along with two other Democratic operatives Julianna Smoot and Jennifer O'Malley Dillon.
The plan, first reported by the New York Times, reflects the need to lay the foundation of a structure to replicate Obama's 2008 grass roots campaign, though the election is nearly two years away and Obama has no clue who his Republican opponent will be.
Focus on governing
It also sets up an almost paradoxical situation, whereby Obama will be seeking to woo newly empowered Republicans after their mid-term election triumph, even as he plots to undermine them in the next election.
But Gibbs said, that while Obama was formally moving towards a campaign, his focus remained on governing.
"It is important to understand, just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for re-election does not mean to say you are going to see the president do a number of political re-election events."
News of the re-election effort came exactly two years to the day when Obama raised his hand and took the oath of office, on a chilly day in Washington, accompanied by soaring expectations.
There was no serious thought that Obama would not seek a second term, a historical benchmark of a successful presidency, despite a quixotic comment that he would rather be a good one term president than a bad two term leader.
Obama will run for re-election arguing he staved off a second Great Depression, renewed the US image abroad after the polarising presidency of George W Bush and got US troops home from Iraq while saving the US mission in Afghanistan.
Obama will seek to turn his landmark healthcare reform into an electoral asset, say that that Republicans cannot be trusted with the economy and urge Americans not to change course in the middle of a recovery.
Improving employment rate
Republicans will likely try to exploit an unemployment rate - currently 9.4% - forecast to remain high in 2012 and accuse Obama of bankrupting US finances with a torrent of government spending.
However recent official economic data suggests that the jobless picture may be at last be improving, albeit slowly.
Obama's thoughts are turning to re-election at a moment of surprising political momentum, after he outmanoeuvred Republicans after a November mid-term election rout, and following his handling of the Arizona shooting.
A string of polls have shown that voters are increasingly appreciative of Obama's job performance.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey showed Obama's approval rating surging to 53%, eight points higher than in December.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll pegged Obama's approval rating at 54%, up five points from the previous month.
State of the Union address
However, the ABC survey showed warning signs for the president, in that his rating on individual issues, like the economy, health care and the war in Afghanistan were all below 50%.
Obama will next week make his State of the Union address, his first chance to set the early political battleground running up to the 2012 campaign.
The looming election means that Obama's coming budget battles with Republicans will all be viewed in a highly political context.
Most often mentioned Republican candidates to take on Obama include Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, a failed 2008 contender, and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Bush budget director Mitch Daniels and Mississippi governor Haley Barbour are also possible candidates.
And the intentions of the most high-profile Republican in the country, Sarah Palin, are attracting fevered speculation.