Washington: President Barack Obama Monday opened his quest for a second White House term, calling on supporters to rebuild his grass roots powerbase and gird for a fight to protect his crusade of change.
Obama, who swept to power on a wave of hope-fuelled expectations in 2008 and is now a graying incumbent battered by two years of crises, set course for the November 2012 election with an email to supporters and a web video.
"Today, we are filing papers to launch our 2012 campaign," Obama said, in a move that will allow him to begin piling up campaign cash for an election fund that could reach one billion dollars.
Obama admitted the past two years struggling to enact reform had been perhaps tougher than many supporters hoped.
"We`ve... known that lasting change wouldn`t come quickly or easily. It never does," Obama wrote, after becoming the first openly declared candidate for 2012.
"But as my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we`ve made... we also need to begin mobilizing for 2012, long before the time comes for me to begin campaigning in earnest."
The simple video with a heartland feel showed Americans offering testimony of the importance of protecting the change promised four years ago by an underdog senator from Illinois.
In one shot, an older, white voter named Ed from South Carolina previews a campaign effort to convince voters who may harbor some disappointment with the president to stick with him.
"I don`t agree with Obama on everything, but I respect him and I trust him," the man said.
Obama`s new campaign logo includes the famous image of a rising sun used in 2008, this time nestled in the "0" in 2012.
On www.barackobama.com, supporters could snap up a new range of branded merchandise, including 2012 badges, bumper stickers, mugs and tee shirts.
Republicans quickly fired their opening shots of the campaign.
Possible presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty issued a frenetic web ad shot in the style of a thriller, playing on one of Obama`s favorite slogans.
"How can America win the future, when we`re losing the present?" Pawlenty asked.
Mitt Romney, a failed 2008 contender mulling another go in 2012, tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing Obama`s plans to create jobs for 14 million unemployed.
The Republican National Committee meanwhile attacked Obama over his "failed leadership" on the Washington debate on budget cuts, mocking a "Backseat Presidency."
Despite the constant crises surrounding his White House, Obama, 49, appears in reasonable shape 19 months from polling day, partly due to a Republican field which seems to lack an heir apparent.
But it is already clear that Obama must find a new way to woo supporters who once swooned to his "Yes We Can" oratory.
The 2008 campaign, from Obama`s primary duel with glass ceiling breaker Hillary Clinton to his inauguration as America`s first black president, was steeped in history -- a flavor that will be missing in 2012.
Though many of America`s problems predated his presidency, Obama is now the face of his nation`s slow economic rebound and diminished clout abroad.
But there was a ray of hope for the president last week -- a dip in the unemployment rate to 8.8 percent suggested the economy, which is almost always crucial in US elections, is speeding up.
Obama will also brandish a record as a genuine reformer, after passing a historic health care law and a bill curtailing Wall Street excess.
But the health care law remains divisive, and Obama has fallen short of other lofty goals, including his bid to close Guantanamo Bay.
Polls show Obama`s approval rating in the high 40s, hardly a stellar endorsement from voters but still viable considering the tough times, and he beats Republicans in most polls.
Democrats take solace from the fact there are also questions about Obama`s eventual opponent. The Republican Party has been dragged right of the crucial political center ground by the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement.
Opponents are slamming Obama`s response to crises in Libya and the wider Middle East, which they say show him as a weak leader with a fuzzy foreign policy -- a critique playing into their narrative of American decline.
An uptick in American bloodshed in Afghanistan could also harm his chances.
But the president is on course to declare that his core 2008 promise -- ending the Iraq war -- has been honored with all US troops due home this year.
The crop of possible Republican candidates also includes former speaker Newt Gingrich, Alabama Governor Haley Barbour, folksy Mike Huckabee and outgoing US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.
Last time`s losing Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, has yet to tip her hand but her popularity seems sullied these days and a new female star is emerging: Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann.