By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With three Chicago events, President Barack Obama begins his re-election campaign in earnest on Thursday needing to recapture the energy of liberal voters who swept him to power and attract independents.
Obama has attempted to straddle a middle ground and sought compromise with his political adversaries since Republicans took command of the House of Representatives and picked up strength in the Senate at last November's elections,
This has led to some strains with his liberal allies, most significantly when he reached a compromise in December with Republicans that led to a two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for wealthier Americans.
Obama has to walk the tightrope between not only repairing ties with liberals but also convincing independent voters to come back into the fold, after they abandoned Democrats at last November's elections. He must also seek to avoid alienating congressional Republicans who he needs in budget talks.
Perhaps Obama's most serious rival at the presidential election, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, threw his hat into the ring this week by announcing he was looking into running for the Republican nomination.
That gives an edge to Obama's attempts to shape his campaign. Obama may give some clues to his strategy in remarks at three fund-raising events for his own campaign in Chicago on Thursday, the first of many in a long slog toward a goal of perhaps a record war chest of $1 billion for 2012.
A speech Obama gave on Wednesday laying out a plan to cut $4 trillion from deficit spending in 12 years is seen as a step toward shoring up his political base.
For the left, he took aim at the Bush tax cuts for wealthier Americans -- "I refuse to renew them again" -- and attacked a Republican plan to revamp healthcare programs for the elderly and poor.
Liberal groups generally welcomed the speech although one prominent organization, MoveOn.org, said Obama's plan is not bold enough.
"With the richest 1 percent of Americans taking home a quarter of all income and facing the lowest tax rates in generations, we need to go much further to make sure millionaires and corporations pay their fair share, and Wall Street banks help clean up the mess they created," MoveOn executive director Justin Ruben said.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week said Obama's approval rating dipped to 46 percent and the decline was largely driven by a sharp downturn in approval from his fellow Democrats, whose support dropped 7 points to 73 percent. Support among independents and Republicans remained relatively steady.
NEEDS REPUBLICANS TOO
Despite trying to make good with the liberal base, Obama needs to keep reasonable relations with Republicans in Congress where the two parties are in tough talks over how to cut soaring budget deficits.
Independent voters have been on Obama's mind since they fled Democrats last November over concerns about rising government debt and the U.S. economy.
Obama's speech on Wednesday -- promising to take on the debt problem with solutions from both sides -- could help him with independents.
Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said Obama has seemed to have been more concerned about independents so far this year, and has time to get back on the good side of liberals who are not posing a challenger to his re-election.
"I don't think a delay hurts him at this point as long as he is not deluding himself," she said.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)