WASHINGTON – President Obama will headline his first re-election rallies next week, marking an important turning point in the race for the White House, as Republican nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney intensified efforts to unite his party and raise money for the battle ahead.
The president will hit the campaign trail with back-to-back rallies May 5 in Ohio and Virginia, according to an Obama campaign official who requested anonymity to speak ahead of the campaign's formal announcement. Obama carried both states in the 2008 election and will need them again in November if he wants to hold the White House.
Michelle Obama, the popular first lady, will join the president at the rallies, which will be held on the campuses of Ohio State University in Columbus and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, the official said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden is calling the foreign policy outlined by Romney shallow, ill-informed and dangerous.
Biden says Romney would return the United States to what he called "the past we have worked so hard to move beyond."
In remarks prepared for delivery Thursday at an overtly partisan campaign event in New York City, Biden says that Obama will gladly stack accomplishments such as killing terror mastermind Usama bin Laden against Romney's rhetoric.
The Associated Press obtained excerpts of the speech Wednesday.
The campaign speech at New York University represents a broad defense of Obama's national security record. So far, neither Romney nor Obama has made foreign policy a major issue in the campaign.
With Romney now assured of the Republican Party's nomination, Obama couldn't afford to stand off to the sidelines much longer in what is shaping up to be a close contest.
Even the White House, which has been loath to engage fully in the election as it seeks to project a focus on the day-to-day business of governing, acknowledged Wednesday that the general election was in full-swing. White House spokesman Jay Carney, referring to the Republican contest, declared that "the race is over on that side."
The campaign official said Obama would use his return to the campaign rally circuit to lay out what he sees as the real stakes in the election, and draw a contrast between his economic approach and what the campaign says is the Republican Party's desire to return to the policies that crashed the economy.
The campaign rallies could serve as a way to energize his base, especially the young voters on the campuses where the events will be held. They also break down the barrier the White House has tried to maintain between the president and the political bickering on the campaign trail.
That barrier has been thin at best. Obama has for months been wooing donors at campaign fundraisers across the country, building up a sizeable money advantage over Romney. And Obama's official events have often had a campaign vibe, with Air Force One landing in politically important states and crowds breaking into chants of "four more years."
News of Obama's first campaign rallies followed word from the Republican National Committee that it had filed a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office requesting an investigation into whether Obama was using taxpayer money to fund travel that benefited his re-election campaign.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement that Obama's campaign "has been cheating the American taxpayer by using taxpayer dollars to fund their general election efforts."
While young voters were solidly behind Obama in the 2008 election, they are being aggressively wooed by Romney. His campaign is hoping he can appeal to young voters burdened by a bleak employment picture and student loan debt.
At official events this week on college campuses in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa, Obama told crowds that Congress needed to act on a bill to freeze the interest rate on student loans.
In 2008, Obama had a 34-point advantage over Republican Senator John McCain among voters under age 30. But new polling suggests the president may face a harder sales job with younger voters this time around.
Romney, meanwhile, moved aggressively to raise money for the battle against Obama and reconcile with a divided Republican Party.
Despite the former Massachusetts governor's struggle to win over the most conservative Republicans, his well-financed campaign knocked over his main rivals one-by-one during the arduous state-by-state primary race.
Priebus marked the transition Wednesday by proclaiming Romney the party's "presumptive nominee."
Two of Romney's once-bitter rivals signaled they would support him.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a friendly telephone conversation Wednesday with Romney and had started planning an event where he would throw his support behind the likely nominee, Gingrich spokesman R.C Hammond said. The pair agreed to work together to unite conservatives against Obama.
"It's clear Romney is the nominee and the focus should be on defeating Obama. We should not focus on defeating ourselves," Gingrich, who has not formally dropped out of the race, told disappointed supporters in North Carolina.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who suspended his campaign two weeks ago, said he intended to sit down with Romney's representatives on Wednesday and with Romney himself in the next week or two.
"Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee," Santorum told CNN, "and I'm going to support the nominee."
Romney was attending fundraisers Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for what may be the most expensive presidential contest in the history of American politics. He exuded confidence Tuesday night, but faces a 10-to-1 cash disadvantage in a general election matchup against the president.
Romney has at least six closed-door fundraisers in two days in New York and New Jersey. They may be among his final private meetings with donors, according to campaign officials who confirmed that Romney would begin opening some finance events to reporters as early as next week. The officials requested anonymity to discuss internal decisions.