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White House retools administration's communication plan

WASHINGTON - White House officials are retooling the administration's communications strategy to produce faster responses to political adversaries, a more disciplined focus on President Barack Obama's call for "change" in Washington and an increasingly selective use of the president's time.

The messaging adjustments are the result of an end-of-the-year analysis in which White House advisers said the president's communications team had not taken the initiative often enough and had allowed drawn-out debates in Congress, and relentless criticism by Republicans, to drown out his message.

"It was clear that too often we didn't have the ball - Congress had the ball in terms of driving the message," communications director Dan Pfeiffer said. "In 2010, the president will constantly be doing high-profile things to be the person driving the narrative."

Senior White House aides described the changes as an aggressive response, aimed at producing fresh momentum for the president's faltering agenda and regaining the advantage ahead of the congressional midterm elections in November.

Vice President Joe Biden's appearances on two Sunday morning talk shows this week were part of the new response - in this case, to rebut former Vice President Dick Cheney's charges that the administration is weak on terrorism. Biden, who taped one of the shows in advance, said his predecessor was attempting to "rewrite history."

Obama's surprise news conference last week - his first in nearly seven months - is another example. After a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders, Obama faced the media to declare his willingness to work with Republicans.

But he warned: "I also won't hesitate to condemn what I consider to be obstinacy that's rooted not in substantive disagreements but in political expedience."

Stephen Farnsworth, an assistant professor of communication at George Mason University and author of "Spinner in Chief: How Presidents Sell Their Policies and Themselves," said: "A diffident Obama PR strategy in the first year gave the Republicans an opening they have exploited."

Farnsworth said of White House officials, "They simply have to play offense to try to win back the public support that they enjoyed during the campaign."

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