"It's fortunate that, because of his popularity within the [Democratic] party, he doesn't have primary contests," a senior Obama adviser told me, so he doesn't have to fight for the Democratic nomination this time. As a result, he can focus on accomplishing his goals in Washington, the aide says.
"He's looking forward to the campaign, but it's not that he wishes he were out there mixing it up right now," the adviser adds. "You don't run for president to run again. You run to do things."
Republicans, however, have a completely different take. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said this morning that Obama is actually putting much more emphasis on campaigning than on governing. In an email to reporters, Priebus said, "The Obama White House and the Obama campaign have become almost indistinguishable." He predicted that Obama's State of the Union address tonight "will be a campaign speech. It will be well-delivered, long on rhetoric--and short on specifics."
But Obama is sensing that there is a modest increase in public optimism about the economy, the future, and Americans' ability to get ahead. His advisers say he is picking up this increasingly upbeat mood as he travels around the country and as he reads the opinion polls. One reason, he believes, is that there has been better economic news, such as a stabilizing of unemployment.
"People still are having hard times," a senior Obama strategist told me. But he adds that "there is a modest uptick in optimism." This assessment is supported by recent polling. Real Clear Politics, averaging several major opinion surveys, finds that 65 percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track and 28 percent say it's heading in the right direction. This isn't anything to write home about, but it's a slight improvement in optimism from last year, when more than seven out of 10 Americans said the country was on the wrong track.
"The president is struck by how positive people are," the senior aide says. "It's remarkable what optimism and positive attitudes so many Americans have even when they are struggling. It reinforces his conviction that we will emerge stronger and better from the severe problems that we have."