WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is shifting senior White House staffers to his hometown of Chicago and opening a campaign headquarters there as he steps up preparations for the formal launch of his re-election bid this spring.
The moves open a new chapter in Obama's presidency; he will juggle dual roles of candidate and president for the remainder of his first term.
As aides ramped up preparations for 2012, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president will soon file papers with the Federal Election Commission to formally declare his candidacy. Officials say fundraising and grass-roots organizing is to begin in March or April.
"We've made progress on getting the economy back in order and I think the president wants to continue to do that," Gibbs said.
Thus, Obama is starting to execute a campaign plan that's been in the works for months. Under it:
Obama's deputy chief of staff Jim Messina will leave the White House to serve as campaign manager. Aides say he's looking for office space in downtown Chicago, and reaching out to potential campaign donors and consultants.
White House social secretary Juliana Smoot and Democratic National Committee executive director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon will serve as deputy campaign managers. Both are veterans of the 2008 campaign, with Smoot having served as finance director and Dillon focusing on battleground states.
As the campaign approaches, the White House plans to close its political affairs office and move its functions to the DNC. White House political director Patrick Gaspard will join the DNC as executive director.
Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will continue to serve as the committee's chairman. He announced the changes at a DNC staff meeting Thursday.
Gibbs said dismantling the White House political wing was "a matter of duplication and efficiency that makes a lot of sense."
However, Gibbs said he doesn't expect the president to be hitting the campaign trail anytime soon.
"Just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for re-election does not mean that you're going to see the president doing a ton of political reelection events," he said.
The developments are a part of broader White House changes as Obama prepares for his re-election race.
David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, recently joined the White House; senior adviser David Axelrod plans to join the campaign in Chicago and Gibbs is to serve as a consultant.