So now, this famously insular president is spending an increasing amount of time outside the White House, trying to burst out of his Washington bubble and reconnect with the country.
Although he maintains the same tight circle within the White House, he is paying increasing attention to what supporters tell him on the campaign trail and to bloggers, writers and long-form journalists who vary in their political outlook from the left to center.
He is using the new information to animate stump speeches — criticized by some supporters in the past as too much about himself — and to prod his communications team to sharpen the arguments for his reelection.
The often-secret briefing books, which he plows through one after another, now often include some of his open-source favorites from the Internet. As a result, the mix of influences helping guide the president through the campaign’s final phase is suddenly more eclectic and real-world than it has been since perhaps his last race.
“We’re in a much different process . . . because he is traveling so much,” said a senior administration official, describing how Obama is receiving information and the way it is influencing him.
This adviser — who like others declined to be identified by name in order to pull the curtain back slightly on Obama’s personal habits on the trail — said the increased contact with voters has proved to be like “the 10 letters on steroids,” referring to the handpicked sampling of constituent concerns that Obama reads each evening.
“It’s not the campaigning, per se,” the senior administration official said. “But when he can talk to people out on the trail it makes him better at his job.”
Although planned to the minute and choreographed for the media, president-with-real-person encounters often produce a kind of detail otherwise unavailable to the president. And Obama, who leads Republican nominee Mitt Romney in “likability” by nearly 40 percentage points, has often used what he hears.
In mid-August, during a meeting about education policy at the campaign's Chicago headquarters, Obama told his senior advisers about a visit he had with a geometry teacher in Scranton, Pa., months earlier.
According to a senior administration official, Obama said the teacher told him that a recent jump in class size of about 30 percent had translated into his having 30 percent less time to give individual help to students who needed it. “That’s the kind of real-life effect class size has,” he told advisers, according to the senior official. “And a real way of explaining the importance of ensuring [to voters] that class size does not rise .”