Critics who charge President Obama is focused more on campaigning than governing may have a point.
The president has attended more fundraisers and been quicker to air ads attacking his likely fall opponent than most of his modern predecessors, records shows.
Though the president isn't officially kicking off his re-election campaign until this weekend, he already released two ads portraying presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney as a corporate raider, fat cat and serial outsourcer of American jobs.
Meanwhile, Obama is stuffing his campaign war chest with the fruits of his record-setting fundraising schedule, which included 133 fundraising events for his re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee between January 2011 and May 2, according to Brendan J. Doherty, a Naval Academy professor who tracked presidential travel and fundraising back to 1977. By comparison, Obama's five immediate predecessors attended a total of 208 fundraisers for their re-election campaigns or their party's national committee in the final two years of their first terms.
The Obama campaign reported having $104 million in the bank at the end of March, 10 times Romney's $10.1 million.
Obama shifted into campaign mode and began running attack ads a full three months earlier than former President Clinton did when he was running for re-election in 1996. Clinton waited until July of that election year to attack his Republican opponent, Sen. Bob Dole, with an ad showing children smoking cigarettes beside a Dole quote questioning whether smoking is addictive.
Clinton's predecessor, George H.W. Bush, aired the first negative ad of his re-election campaign against Clinton in September of 1992, just two months before Election Day. Bush's opening attack portrayed Clinton as tax-happy hillbilly, complete with images of a beer mug, mobile home, roadside motel and Clinton playing the saxophone.
Obama is running ads early to define the election as a choice between moving the country "forward" under his continued leadership or electing Romney, a corporate raider who favors the rich.
"Obama needs to point out the differences with Romney so people will understand the choice and don't just turn this into a referendum on Obama, because if it becomes a referendum, Obama loses," said Darrell West, vice president of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
Republicans say Obama's attack ads are intended to distract voters from his record.
"The president has compiled a record on fiscal and pocketbook issues that is going to be very, very hard for him to defend, and so a better tactical move for him is to attempt to tear down and attack his opponent," said GOP strategist Bob Honold.
Obama's strategy is reminiscent of former President George W. Bush's 2004 campaign against Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Bush's first negative ad against Kerry, aired in March 2004, challenged Kerry's perceived strengths as a successful businessman and decorated war veteran by characterizing him as an elitist and a flip-flopper naive about foreign policy.
Similarly, Obama's attacks against Romney go after his private-sector experience and his trustworthiness by claiming he outsourced jobs and tried to hide investment earnings in offshore banks.
"It's just what you'd expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account," the ad's narrator says.
It might be negative, but that's just the kind of political advertising that works, West said.
"It draws a clear contrast on economic issues and has a very punchy tagline," West said. "It combines substantive issues and personal trustworthiness, and that's what will be effective."