Now that President Barack Obama has officially kicked off his re-election campaign for the White House, Obama’s senior strategists are setting their sights on Republican opponent, Mitt Romney — and mobilizing a grassroots, get-out-the-vote movement aimed at African-Americans, Hispanics and college students.

“The energy and enthusiasm is real,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told journalists during a conference call on Monday. “We’re not taking our feet off the pedal.”

Messina’s strategy for victory is sound: campaign relentlessly as if every single vote counts – because it does. And Obama, a tireless campaigner, said he’s going back to basics.

“We are going to win this thing the old-fashioned way — door by door, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood,” Obama told a cheering crowd at Ohio State University last weekend. “This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class.”

There are nine critical battleground states that are up for grabs — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin – and while the number of black registered voters in Florida, for example, has increased to 1,474,577, which is also an all-time high, the Obama campaign still says it has plenty of work to do.

A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll shows that Obama and Romney are locked in a dead heat. Romney has a slight lead over Obama 48 to 47 percent among likely voters, according to the survey, but Democratic pollsters say they expect the numbers to see-saw back and forth from now until Election Day. The latest poll by POLITICO, however, does suggest that Romney is gaining some momentum as Republicans are beginning to rally around the billionaire candidate.

Messina said he expects the race between Obama and Romney to be “a close election” but added that he’s pleased with a “very enthusiastic base that is excited about President Obama.”

“The more people get up close to Romney,” Messina said, “the less they like him.”

Messina’s comments come as the campaign released a new television ad entitled “Go” — which outlines Obama’s “commitment to the American worker and belief that a strong and growing economy that’s built to last starts with returning to the basic values of fairness and opportunity that made our country great.” The ad highlights the creation of 4.2 million jobs over 26 consecutive months of private sector growth and Obama’s faith that hard work for Americans eventually pays off. “Go” will air in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa, North Carolina, Florida and Colorado.

David Axelrod, Obama’s senior campaign strategist, said his team will continue to produce “positive” campaign ads that will focus on moving America forward and underscoring Obama’s vision for the nation. By contrast, Axelrod said Romney has spent $55 million so far in negative campaigning where “90 percent of the ads have been attacking opponents.” Axelrod said “Romney talks about being a businessman without talking about what his businesses did” and insists that Romney doesn’t talk in detail about his tenure as governor of Massachusetts because of his poor record on jobs creation.

“He has absolutely nothing to say,” Messina added.

But Romney certainly understands the significance of minority voters. Although he has probably written off the black vote, he is very concerned about losing Hispanic support to Obama. At a private fundraising reception in Palm Beach recently, according to POLITICO, Romney said if he can’t rally Hispanic voters around his candidacy, “It spells doom for us.”

He’s right.

Last month, the Obama campaign announced a new initiative, “Latinos for Obama,” designed to mobilize Hispanic voters – “”the largest ever national effort to engage Hispanic Americans in their communities and involve them in the upcoming election through voter registration, volunteering and voting.” The first in a series of Spanish language television and radio ads features first-person tributes to Obama.

“It’s no secret that Latinos will be a deciding factor in this election,” Messina said.

Meanwhile, with Election Day 182 days away, the NAACP on Wednesday plans to announce an unprecedented voter registration drive aimed at registering hundreds of thousands of African-Americans in the months ahead.

Millions of African-Americans are at risk of not being eligible to vote in the presidential election because of strict voter identification laws. Thirty-two states have laws pending that require voters to present government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot. Conservatives insist that the new rules will prevent voter impersonation fraud, but civil rights activists maintain the laws are specifically designed to keep minorities from voting.

The NAACP says its voter registration drive is in response to “the most unprecedented and aggressive attack on voting rights since the dawn of Jim Crow.” NAACP officials say they will register, educate, turn out and protect hundreds of thousands of minority and youth and elderly voters throughout the country. The campaign, the NAACP said, will also feature cutting-edge strategies to galvanize new voters and fire-up returning voters.

“Registration among Latinos and African-Americans has never been higher,” Clo Ewing, Director of Constituency Press for the Obama campaign, wrote in a campaign blog Monday. “There are more Americans of both backgrounds registered to vote today than there were when President Obama was elected.”

And while the Obama campaign and the NAACP are working diligently to mobilize a grassroots army of Democratic volunteers, Charles Barkley, the former basketball star-turned-NBA analyst, is making his own predictions about this year’s presidential campaign.

“Mitt Romney, listen man,” Barkley said during a recent broadcast on TNT. “We’re gonna beat you like a drum in November. Don’t take it personally. I like you. You seem like a nice guy. But you’re going down, bro.”

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