President Barack Obama launched his first television ad of his re-election campaign, defending his energy record against criticism from a Republican-leaning outside group in a sign that the presidential race is entering a new phase even though Republicans have yet to pick a challenger.
The ad, released Wednesday, responds to a $6 million ad campaign by a group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers accusing Obama of conducting pay-for-play politics in the bankruptcy of California energy company Solyndra, which imploded despite a $528 million federal loan.
Obama's ad opens by citing "secretive billionaires attacking President Obama with ads fact-checkers say are not tethered to the facts." It says that the president has added 2.7 million clean energy jobs while reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil, calling Obama's record on ethics "unprecedented."
The voiceover ends by saying, "President Obama. Kept his promise to toughen ethics rules and strengthen America's energy economy."
The Obama campaign has bought ad time in Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Iowa and on national cable television, according to a campaign official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and was not authorized to speak publicly about internal campaign strategy.
Obama's campaign was expected to launch the television advertising on Thursday, the official said, showing that the president's advisers are moving to directly rebut attacks from super PACs and Republican presidential candidates who have assailed the president in early voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The ad comes in the aftermath of Obama's decision to reject a job-producing oil pipeline running from Canada through Texas, citing environmental and public safety concerns.
It directly responds to a spot released by Americans for Prosperity charging Obama's campaign with collecting funds from Solyndra investors in exchange for the large federal loan, which failed to prevent the bankruptcy and the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. "Tell President Obama American workers aren't pawns in your political games," the ad says.
Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group headed by billionaires Charles and David Koch, began airing the 1-minute ad in the same six states where Obama's campaign will run its first advertising. The Koch brothers' energy company has bankrolled right-leaning causes and drawn frequent criticism from liberal groups.
Obama's new ad will be coupled with stepped-up travel surrounding Tuesday's State of the Union address. The president heads to Florida on Thursday and then visits five states over three days next week to discuss the policies he'll pursue leading up to his re-election campaign.
The president's advisers had anticipated a lengthy fight in the Republican primaries, but the decision to begin airing ads reflects the need to respond to criticism from outside Republican groups and prepare for a campaign against Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has won contests in Iowa and New Hampshire and shown strength in upcoming contests in South Carolina and Florida, giving him an inside track to the nomination.
Obama has raised more than $220 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the end of 2011, giving him a strong foundation to run a national campaign across the airwaves and on the ground.
In the State of the Union address, Obama is expected to draw parallels to a speech he delivered in Kansas in December, when he said the nation's middle class and those aspiring to the middle class faced "a make-or-break moment" and the nation needed economic policies that would give everyone a "fair shot and a fair share."
The White House has not outlined specific policy proposals that the president intends to make in the address. But with the nation trying to move forward from a deep economic recession, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday the speech would carry economic themes similar to those the president has been discussing in other forums.
"He is fiercely focused on economic growth and job creation and ... using every tool available to him to assist him in that project," Carney said.
The president will discuss proposals from Tuesday's State of the Union address in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Phoenix on Jan. 25 and in Las Vegas and Denver on Jan. 26. On Jan. 27, Obama will speak in Detroit.
All five states are considered critical to Obama's re-election. He won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, sending him on a path to the White House, but the state looks like a toss-up this year. Colorado, Nevada and Arizona are three Western states the president's campaign covets, while Michigan is expected to get ample attention from Republicans after the economic recession hurt the state's manufacturing base.
Republicans said Obama's travels were politically motivated, accusing the president of being focused entirely on his re-election campaign.
"It's clear President Obama has abandoned governing and is in complete campaign mode," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.
Of the 10 states Obama will visit in the next week or air TV advertising, he carried all in 2008 except Arizona.