Obama targets $1bn war chest to pay for his re-election drive

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More than a year-and-a-half away and with the Republicans no closer to settling on a credible opponent, President Barack Obama launched his re-election bid yesterday, kick-starting a massive drive for funds.

Despite having to contend with conflict in Libya and a budget stand-off threatening to shut-down government at home, Mr Obama found time to announce his White House run to supporters via e-mail and an online video.

"We've always known that lasting change wouldn't come quickly or easily. It never does," Obama wrote in the e-mail, sent to 13 million supporters, that he signed with his first name. "But as my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we've made - and make more - we also need to begin mobilising for 2012, long before the time comes for me to begin campaigning in earnest."

Urging grassroots Democrats to start mobilising for the November 2012 ballot, the president said he was in the process of filing the formal candidacy paperwork. Doing so allows the party to start raising funds for a war-chest which could top a record $1 billion (620 million).

Last time around, the Obama camp amassed some $750 million to fight John McCain for the 2008 presidency.

In a bid to surpass this total, Mr Obama is expected to tour major money venues across America in the coming weeks, including Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

But the campaign team is also focusing on raising cash through grassroots supporters - the secret of Obama's success in 2008. A website launched to support the White House bid is heavily geared towards individual fundraising. Visitors can click on to a personal fundraising goal page, where an initial sum of $200 is already filled in.

The president himself is absent in a launch video accompanying his White House bid. Instead, there is footage of supporters of Mr Obama talking up his achievements over a soft rock soundtrack. But in an apparent attempt not to put off independents, there is little boasting of policy successes, such as the forcing through of controversial health care reforms.

"I don't agree with Obama on everything but I respect him and I trust him," Ed from North Carolina tells the camera while sitting on his porch.

The choice of statement may reflect the Obama 2012 campaign team's strategy over the coming months.

Acknowledging that a sizeable chunk of America has yet to be won over by his achievements, those close to the president may wish instead to focus on the perceived inexperience or lack of credibility of his rivals.

The Republican Party remains some way off from deciding on its presidential nominee. Some of the names suggested so far include conservatives such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.

All three would be popular with so-called tea party activists - the group of increasingly influential grassroots conservatives.But they would risk alienating more moderate voters.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman are said to be contemplating a run at the White House, but both are likely to be unpopular with the party's right wing.

Other potential Republican runners range from the charismatic business tycoon Donald Trump to Minnesota's former governor Tim Pawlenty, who has been caricatured as capable but dull.

Any split in Republican support between moderates and conservatives could boost Mr Obama's campaign at a time when the president continues to face challenges at home and abroad.

He faces growing questions in Washington over his decision to participate in the conflict in Libya without getting Congressional approval. And although the US economy continues to recover, progress has been sluggish. Unemployment has fallen, but still hovers just under the 9 per cent mark.

A more immediate concern may be the prospect of a government shut-down.

Congress has until Friday to agree budget cuts for the current fiscal year. Party leaders appear to be inching closer to anegotiated deal, but even if one is found, an equally fractious debate over next year's budget looms.