If there ever was a line between the campaign trail and the Oval Office for a president seeking re-election, President Obama has effectively erased it with a head-on approach to the fall campaign in which both the White House and Obama's Chicago headquarters are coordinating direct fire against the president's likely general-election opponent, Republican Mitt Romney.
Other presidents have run Rose Garden campaigns, insulating themselves in the White House and declaring themselves too busy with the affairs of state to campaign for re-election, but not Obama. The president has unabashedly likened his Republican foes to Flat Earthers who practice social Darwinism, and on Tuesday he will unleash his latest direct assault on Romney as an ultra-wealthy elitist out of touch with the average American.
Specifically, the president will travel to Florida to assail Romney and Republicans for opposing the so-called Buffett Rule legislation that would raise taxes on the rich. Senate Democrats were pushing the measure on Capitol Hill Monday, and Obama's top campaign aides hammered away at Romney in a prelude to the president's planned assault.
"Mitt Romney's tax plan doesn't ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share; in fact, it does the opposite," said Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina. "Romney's plan looks out for people just like him."
One of Obama's home state supporters, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, tried to raise suspicions about Romney, whose financial disclosure forms failed to shed light on a number of his big-dollar investments, including offshore bank accounts.
"It's impossible for [Romney] to explain or defend why he has a Swiss bank account," Durbin said.
Democrats, including Obama, are stepping up their direct attacks on Romney now that it's clear he'll eventually lock up his party's nomination despite ongoing challenges from three other Republicans. The attacks also come at a time when Romney himself is trying to soften voters' perceptions of him following a series of rhetorical miscues that seemed only to reinforce the notion that he couldn't relate to the problems of average Americans.
Obama last week fired his sharpest attack against Romney, accusing him of "thinly veiled social Darwinism" because he supported a GOP-backed budget plan that revamped federal social programs while cutting taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers.
By openly embracing his re-election efforts and going aggressively after Romney, Obama does risk undercutting his self-professed image as a unifying figure who in the 2008 campaign pledged to stand above the political fray and get things done in Washington on a bipartisan basis.
Noticing Obama's shift, the national Republican Party Monday released a video calling the president a "hypocrite" and highlighted the difference between Obama's previous message of hope and change versus his present-day combativeness.
With all the focus on campaigning, Obama faces his own questions about not connecting with average voters. Romney accused Obama of spending too much time at Harvard -- though Romney also graduated from the Ivy League school -- and for headlining lavish fundraisers in liberal bastions like Hollywood.
Obama's advisers counter that the president has no choice but to move aggressively against Romney. Republican Super PACs are no longer bound by limits on fundraising and spending, posing an unprecedented threat to a sitting president and requiring a more direct response, they said.