WASHINGTON — Maybe President Barack Obama and his friends got tired of waiting for the 2012 campaign to start.

The early action was supposed to be in the competitive Republican primary. But the White House and its allies are meddling from the sidelines with a good cop, bad cop routine.

A pro-Obama group is airing an ad in South Carolina that jabs Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Obama praises Romney on health care issues and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman for his service as the Obama administration's ambassador to China.

A safer strategy might call for Obama and his allies to stay quiet, save their money and let the Republicans bash each other. But the GOP rivals aren't doing much bashing in their slow-starting contest. So Democrats are filling the void.