With just over six months to go before the U.S. presidential election, President Barack Obama plans to use events next week in key election battleground states to formally kick off his campaign against the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.
Obama campaign officials say the president and first lady Michelle Obama will formally start the general election campaign May 5 with appearances in Ohio and Virginia.
Mr. Obama has essentially been campaigning for months. He has made numerous trips to promote his policies, combined with fundraising speeches that have raised tens of millions of dollars for his re-election bid.
Ohio, which he won in the 2008 presidential contest against Republican nominee John McCain, and Virginia, which also went Democratic, are a major focus of the Obama re-election team.
The White House rejects criticisms raised in the media, and by Republicans, that trips combining fundraising with policy promotion have essentially allowed Mr. Obama to campaign at taxpayers' expense.
Press Secretary Jay Carney calls the allegations attempts to politicize the issue of presidential travel, saying Mr. Obama follows the same rules as previous occupants of the White House.
"The arguments about this are coming from people who know we assiduously follow all the rules in terms of the delineations between campaign travel and official travel, just as our predecessor did," said Carney.
Mr. Obama spent two days this week promoting his proposals to lower the cost of loans for college students, stopping in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa, but also tacked on fundraising events.
On Capitol Hill, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, called the president's travels "political stunts."
"These are [political stunts] and frankly they aren't worthy of his office," said Boehner.
The political warfare between Mr. Obama and Romney has already escalated. Mr. Obama says Romney and Republican proposals he supports would set back economic recovery and undermine the middle class.
Romney brands Obama policies on everything from job creation to energy policy a failure. The two criticized each other in recent remarks at separate locations.
OBAMA: "I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Michelle wasn't. But somebody gave us a chance."
ROMNEY: "I know the president likes to attack fellow Americans. He is always looking for a scapegoat, particularly those that have been successful like my dad, and I'm not going to rise to that."
Meanwhile, the White House is using Vice President Joe Biden to hit at Romney on foreign policy issues.
Speaking in New York City, Biden characterized Romney criticisms of Mr. Obama on relations with Russia and the president's handling of the Iran nuclear issue as ignorant and misinformed.
"If that is what Governor Romney means by a very different policy [on Iran], he should tell the American people," said Biden. "He should say so. Otherwise, the governor's tough talk about military action is just that, talk, and I would add counterproductive talk.
A Romney campaign official Thursday said Mr. Obama's "abdication of leadership" on foreign policy would be a central issue in the campaign.
President Obama has been encouraged by recent poll numbers, including those in battleground states, although most political analysts say the November election is likely to be very close.
Obama officials say Mr. Obama will use appearances to further clarify his record on economic recovery and contrast it with Romney proposals.
As in any national contest, both candidates run certain risks from being seen as turning sharply negative or personal as they campaign in the coming months.