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Posted at 5:21 PM ET, 01/ 4/2011

What Robert Gibbs' departure could mean

By Chris Cillizza

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs

The news -- first reported by the Post's Anne Kornblut and Scott Wilson -- that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is seriously considering the possibility of leaving his current job to pursue an outside consulting gig is further proof that the 2012 presidential race could be gearing up sooner rather than later.

Gibbs -- and the rest of the official White House staff -- is mum on his future, not returning emails seeking comment.

But conversations with those familiar with the goings-on inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue suggest that Gibbs is likely to join the ranks of senior adviser David Axelrod and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina -- trusted Obama loyalists leaving the official staff to engage in more political pursuits in advance of the 2012 race.

Gibbs had previously been mentioned as a possible Democratic National Committee chairman but with Tim Kaine stating publicly that he plans to remain in that role, it appears such a post is out of the question for Gibbs.

He may well take a slight step back from the current 24/7 pace of his job and serve as a television surrogate -- among other things -- for Obama in the near-term, according to one informed source.

Prior to signing on with Obama in 2004 -- and rapidly becoming a trusted confidante of the then-Illinois Senator -- Gibbs' background was almost entirely in the nitty-gritty of campaign politics.

Gibbs worked on successful campaigns for Sens. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in 1998 and 2000, respectively. He then served as communications director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2002 cycle and was one of the earliest hires for Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid. Gibbs quit that campaign after the removal of campaign manager Jim Jordan and eventually found his way to the Senate campaign of Obama.

One possibility for Gibbs -- although it remains a hypothetical at the moment -- is to oversee the construction of an outside political organization aimed at rivaling what American Crossroads and other Republican-aligned organizations built in the 2010 election and are promising to reprise in 2012.

There is growing concern in Democratic ranks that without an outside entity to counter massive Republican spending even Obama's demonstrated fundraising abilities might not be enough to withstand a GOP ad onslaught in 2012.

During the 2004 Democratic presidential primary process, Gibbs was affiliated with Americans for Jobs, Health Care & Progressive Values, a 527 organization that ran ads slamming former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Dean -- and his liberal allies -- blasted the ads but they clearly had an effect as Kerry won the Iowa caucuses and cruised to the nomination.

Given the White House's policy of silence when it comes to internal staff machinations, it's almost certain we won't know the future of one of Obama's most high profile advocates until it gets formally announced.

But, a departure by Gibbs -- coupled with the other moves expected to happen in the near-term -- suggest that Obama and his team are aware that the 2012 campaign has already begun and have no interest in getting a late start on it.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 4, 2011; 5:21 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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