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Obama Thanks Iowa Supporters as Team Lays Groundwork for November Campaign

 

With all eyes on the Republican contest in Iowa Tuesday night, President Obama thanked his Hawkeye State supporters as his team began to lay the groundwork for an aggressive campaign come November. 

In a live video teleconference to Democratic activists during Iowa's leadoff presidential caucuses, Obama said that "because of" them the Iraq war ended, a major health care law was passed and the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays was ended. 

Obama told the Iowa activists that they "have made the difference" in helping his administration meet promises he made when he first ran for president in 2008. Iowa delivered the caucus win to Obama in 2008, later voting for him in the general election. 

While the president has no opponent in Tuesday night's Democratic caucuses, his campaign has been aggressive about getting troops on the ground -- hiring more than 20 paid staffers in eight field offices -- and buying up ads on Tuesday all over the Des Moines Register's website. 

Obama aides say one of five scenarios for the president's reelection is the so-called "western path," where carrying Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico leaves him just short of 270 electoral votes -- so carrying Iowa would put him just barely over the top. 

"I think we have so much enthusiasm in Iowa that we'll come out of here better organized than whoever wins the caucus on the Republican side," said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee

But Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee, asked if Obama is so popular, then why have new Republican voter registrations surged so much since 2008. He pointed to Iowa elections data that show registered 44.4 percent of new registrations in January 2008 were Democratic while Republicans were only 23.2 percent. As of Tuesday, however, the number of registered Republicans had closed to within 30,000 voters behind Democrats.

Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said the president's pitch to Iowa is so early and unnecessary it can only be a show of how political the White House is. 

"It's cheesy, I'm really a little offended by this. ... Can't he just deal with Iran?" Kristol said. "He's wasting time tonight doing what? Giving a silly talk." 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, though, suggested the caucuses would not factor into Obama's upcoming political decisions. 

Asked whether Obama's schedule this week would depend on the Iowa outcome, Carney said: "It depends not a bit on what happens in Iowa. We're very confident that the president's going to win overwhelmingly in the Democratic caucuses tonight." 

While administration officials suggested Tuesday that the president will not go into full campaign mode until this summer, he's already been visiting key states for months. On Wednesday he goes to Ohio -- a key election battleground -- to again push Congress on a full one-year extension of the payroll tax cut. 

Carney said the president would prefer Congress start passing some legislation, though aides have said Obama intends to make the start of his campaign about a contrast with Congress. 

"The fact is the president would like nothing more than to be deprived of the opportunity to run against a do-nothing Congress, because Congress could deprive him of that opportunity if Republicans were willing to do something or to do more," Carney said. 

Fox News' Ed Henry and The Associated Press contributed to this report.