Rick Santorum's surprising momentum at a critical stage in the presidential race has forced the Obama campaign to reassess its re-election strategy, which for months has revolved around the likelihood that Mitt Romney would end up as the president's Republican rival.
With several victories and some strong poll numbers under his belt, Santorum has garnered more attention at the Obama campaign's Chicago headquarters in recent weeks.
The campaign has begun digging into Santorum's background, diverting opposition researchers who had been scrutinizing Romney. They also blasted an e-mail to supporters in Pennsylvania, asking them to submit their most damning recollections of Santorum, a former senator from the state.
Though campaign officials still view Romney as the likely nominee, they have begun to consider the implications of a Santorum victory. They view him as a weaker general election opponent, but one who has shown an ability to connect with the population that is most disillusioned with Obama: white, blue-collar voters.
"Looking at the way the Republican race is unfolding, we'd be derelict if we didn't begin looking at Santorum as a real potential opponent," said Stephanie Cutter, a top Obama campaign manager.
If Santorum wins, he may fare better in Midwestern swing states that would be crucial to Obama's re-election.
Romney "can't capitalize on the president's weakness with lower-income, non-college voters," said a Democratic strategist working to re-elect the president, granted anonymity in order to speak freely about internal strategy. "Rick Santorum has a better message for that community."
Meanwhile, in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, Obama said American manufacturers are reinventing themselves, leading to what the administration claims are 3.7 million new jobs created over the past two years. "Factories where people thought they'd retire have left town. Jobs that provided a decent living have been shipped overseas" and will not return, Obama said. "But that doesn't mean we have to settle for a lesser future."
Delivering the Republican address, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers accused Obama of overspending that will set the country up for a financial implosion like Greece.