As expected, U.S. President Barack Obama has launched his bid for reelection to the White House, telling supporters that he needs their vote in 2012 so he can continue the ambitious reform agenda he began two years ago.
Obama is hoping to repeat the success of his historic 2008 campaign, which saw him emerge from a pack of Democratic hopefuls, including early favorite Hillary Clinton, to become America's first black president.
In an email sent out April 4 to some 13 million supporters, Obama said the broad program of social and financial reforms which he has begun need a second term of his leadership to be fully realized.
"We've always known that lasting change wouldn't come quickly or easily. It never does," he said.
A Call To Mobilize
Obama plans to try and reenergize the immense grassroots support that helped sweep him to victory, and he told supporters he's getting an early start.
In his email, he said, "As my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we've made -- and make more -- we also need to begin mobilizing for 2012, long before the time comes for me to begin campaigning in earnest."
Obama has already released his first campaign video on his website, which features supporters from around the United States of all age groups and ethnicities.
In his 2008 campaign, Obama secured the overwhelming majority of the country's youth vote, and political observers expect him target that demographic once again for critical support.
A young man identified as "Mike" from New York is shown in the video in what appears to be a college dormitory room. He says that he has already decided on his choice in the 2012 presidential election, which will be his first: "I just saw the energy and hope that [Obama] had for this country. Even though I couldn't exactly vote at the time, I knew that someday I'd be able to help reelect him, and that's what I plan on doing."
Another supporter in the video, "Ed" from North Carolina, says he "doesn't agree with Obama on everything" but "respect(s) and trust(s) him."
Obama is expected to file the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission later this week to officially begin his reelection bid.
His campaign staff has set a goal of raising an unprecedented $1 billion in campaign funds, which would shatter the $750 million campaign finance record Obama set in 2008.
But the president's Republican challengers are also mobilizing, and as the country continues to feel the burden of record debt, high unemployment, and two ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his opponents are hoping that American voters want new leadership.
Tim Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota, is the only Republican candidate who has entered the race so far, and he responded to Obama's video by releasing one of his own.
In it, video of a smiling Obama is interspersed between shots of "going out of business" signs and "for sale" signs on homes. Then Pawlenty weighs in: "In order for America to take a new direction, it's gonna take a new president."
About a dozen other Republicans, including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are also expected to try and become the Republican Party's presidential candidate.
Speculation is also high that former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin may run. Palin's media profile has risen dramatically since she and presidential candidate John McCain conceded defeat to Obama in November 2008.
Democrats are in no position to underestimate the political fight ahead. Their party suffered significant losses in last year's congressional elections.
In his email to supporters, Obama said his campaign won't kick into full gear for a while but observers have already noted that this week he is scheduled to travel to Pennsylvania and Indiana -- two states he won in 2008 and will likely need again, in 2012.
Written by Richard Solash, with agency reports