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Obama 2012: Let the '12 money race begin

NBC's Michael Isikoff reports: Jim Messina, the president’s former deputy chief of staff, who left the White House last month, recently began a series of meetings aimed at courting-- and reconnecting with -- Democratic “bundlers,” the elite fundraisers whose ability to package large numbers of checks are crucial to any presidential campaign. Within days after leaving the White House, the Center for Public Integrity's Peter Stone reports, Messina began a nationwide tour, starting off with a Feb. 3 cocktail party at the swank Park Ave. apartment of investment banker Ralph Schlosstein and attended by several Wall Street moneymen. The larger story is that the role of the big party “bundlers” -- the ones Messina is courting-- may be more important than ever. Obama’s 2008 campaign was best known for its ability to bring in enormous amounts of cash from small donors via the Internet. But that is expected to be harder to pull off this time around because of the sputtering economy—and possibly because the grassroots enthusiasm that drove the first Obama campaign is likely to be much more difficult to replicate. As one big Democratic bundler, Peter Buttenweiser of Philadelphia, who raised more than $500,000 for Obama in 2008, tells Stone, the president’s re-election campaign will “need to rely more on the large givers and raisers” because “I don’t think they have as lively an Internet presence as they did before.”

The other big wild card on the Democratic side is whether outside political groups (liberated, largely thanks to the Supreme Court, from any limits on the size of contributions and the burdens of disclosing the names of donors) can duplicate the fundraising prowess that such groups on the Republican side demonstrated in the 2010 cycle. Several Democratic-leaning political groups are starting to get off the ground for the 2012 campaign to compete with such GOP juggernauts as American Crossroads and its non-disclosing affiliate Crossroads GPS, both of which are spearheaded by Karl Rove. Among some of the new Democratic groups: American Bridge 21st Century headed by Media Matters chief David Brock and another called Majority PAC (which will focus on Senate races) led by Harry Reid’s former chief of staff Susan McCue. These – and most likely other—newly formed Democratic-leaning political committees are expected to have non-profit affiliates, registered under 501 C 4 section of the IRS code, that will allow them to take in huge gobs of money without reporting who is doing the giving. The irony couldn’t be any richer: After bashing the Republicans for flooding the airwaves with “secret money” in the 2010 cycle, it now appears the Democrats are getting ready to do the same thing in 2012.

“President Barack Obama's advisors are telling potential donors that he is in a weaker position heading into the 2012 election than he was in 2008 and are detailing potential vulnerabilities of likely opponents, according to people who have seen their presentation,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “The centerpiece of their pitch to donors is a 10-page slide show, which features the slogan ‘Change that Matters’ and offers an early glimpse into the thinking of the president's re-election team.”

The president's hands-off approach to the budget negotiations has a lot to do with his re-election -- a strategy that risks leaving some Senate Democrats up for re-election hanging out to dry, some Democrats grumble. “I imagine the president doesn’t want to really get his hands dirty with this until he can walk away with an agreement, which isn’t helping the leadership at the moment,” one Democratic strategist told The Hill newspaper. “Now, does that have something to do with 2012? Sure it does.”

The Washington Post's Wallsten notes Obama's efforts to court young voters again.