PRESIDENT OBAMA LAUNCHES RE-ELECTION BID…. There was never really any doubt about President Obama’s 2012 plans. There was some talk a year ago about how Obama would rather be a great one-term president than a mediocre two-term president, but it’s always been clear that he preferred to aim for two-term greatness.

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And with that in mind, Obama and his team formally launched their re-election bid this morning, unveiling a video called “It Begins With Us,” featuring a diverse group of supporters talking about their efforts to help give the president a second term.

A revamped is also online, laying out some preliminary efforts, which coincided with an email to supporters early this morning, in which the president noted, “We’ve always known that lasting change wouldn’t come quickly or easily. It never does. But as my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we’ve made — and make more — we also need to begin mobilizing for 2012, long before the time comes for me to begin campaigning in earnest.”

As the cycle gets underway in earnest, it’s probably fair to characterize the president as the 2012 favorite, but not an overwhelming one. Indeed, for every indicator that points in Obama’s favor, there’s a flip-side that suggests caution — the president’s approval ratings have proven resilient under challenging circumstances, but the support nevertheless hovers around 50%. Obama has a record of historic accomplishments, but those breakthroughs have struggled to gain popularity, and any additional successes are highly unlikely between now and next November. The economy is improving — and it vastly stronger than when the president took office — but most Americans are still feeling economic anxieties and pessimism.

Other intangibles — demographic shifts, the weakness of the GOP field, a powerful fundraising apparatus, the power of incumbency — appear to give Obama an added edge, but one also never knows what unpredictable crises or controversies may arise.

All things being equal, the president and his team are probably fairly satisfied with where they start the race. It often goes overlooked, but Obama is in better shape at this early stage than Reagan and Clinton were at comparable points, and if memory serves, they fared pretty well.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.