Blue and white 2012 signs plaster the walls but most of the desks are empty at President Barack Obama's new re-election headquarters in downtown Chicago that his campaign showed off Thursday.
The campaign moved in this week to the 50,000-square-foot space in a high-rise just blocks from the offices that housed the president's successful 2008 bid and not far from Grant Park, where Obama celebrated his victory on election night.
As before, nothing on the outside of the building hints that a presidential campaign is within. And, because the campaign is just settling into its new space, not much on the inside does either with the election still 18 months away.
Long rows of desks largely sit vacant with only a couple dozen staffers working in the space. Large swaths of the cavernous room are devoid of furniture with only tubes of wires poking through the beige carpeting. Campaign manager Jim Messina, a former White House deputy chief of staff, hasn't yet hung his prized possessions on the walls, including a signed jersey from baseball star Derek Jeter and a photo of Messina and Obama.
Northwestern University political scientist Victoria DeFrancesco Soto said a beyond-the-Beltway headquarters in Chicago is good for Obama's campaign because it puts top staff near key states such as Wisconsin and Indiana. A Chicago location also can insulate the campaign from some of the Washington chatter and news leaks that often plague campaigns. Obama, who campaigned as an outsider, can also use it to try to offset an image as ultimate political insider.
"They like the Chicago narrative and they're sticking to it," DeFrancesco Soto said of the campaign.
Trying to win re-election from outside Washington is something no incumbent president has done in decades. Most locate campaign offices near Washington and spend most of their time on the road campaigning.
David Axelrod, a top adviser to Obama who moved back to Chicago after working in the White House, says having the campaign headquarters in the president's hometown means he will likely visit more, but how much time he'll spend here remains unclear. Obama has a home on the South Side but his visits to the city have been limited since he took office.
DeFrancesco Soto said it's ultimately not about how much time Obama spends at his campaign headquarters.
"Remember, it's not really the sitting president who's running it, it's his operatives," she said.