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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Obama Struggles to Reconnect With Voters

DES MOINES, Iowa—President Barack Obama, meeting swing-state voters in a leafy backyard, struggled again Wednesday to answer the concerns of supporters once buoyed by the excitement of the presidential campaign, but now demoralized by economic struggle.

Associated Press
Mary Stier—attending the president's second of three small "town hall" meetings on a four-state swing this week—told the president of her 24-year-old son, who "campaigned fiercely" for Mr. Obama in 2008, graduated from Simpson College a year and a half ago and still is "struggling to find a job."
"They are losing their hope," she said in the backyard of Jeff Clubb, a social studies and religion teacher at a Des Moines Catholic school, and Sandy Clubb, the athletic director of Drake University.
The question, and the president's long answer about the depths of the Great Recession, mirrored the exchange Mr. Obama had last week with Velma Hart, a supporter who told him she was "exhausted" from defending him. Coming the morning after an ebullient political rally in Madison, Wis., it underscored the difficulty Democrats are having mobilizing the voters that propelled them to victory in 2008.
In the Wednesday session, a small businessman pressed the president to extend tax cuts for households and small businesses that earn more than $250,000.
"As the government gets more and more involved in business and more involved in taxes to pay for an awful lot of programs...you're sort of strangling the engine that does create the jobs," he said.
One woman questioned whether the Obama health-care plan would send the U.S. health-care system into a British-style system of rationing and delays. A man asked when the president would end costly wars abroad. Criticized over illegal immigrants getting health care, the president said, "It is very important that we have compassion as part of our national character."
The president was pushed on the defensive, and said, Americans don't want tax increases totaling $700 billion but also complain that the country's budget deficit is too high.
Voters "say, 'cut government spending,' " Mr. Obama responded.

AFP/Getty Images
Obama holds a discussion on the economy in the backyard of the Clubb family in Des Moines, Iowa.
"Well most spending is for veterans, for education, for defense. Foreign aid is 1% of our budget. They say, 'Why don't you eliminate earmarks, all those pork projects that Congress wants to spend.' Even if I could end all those earmarks, that's 1% of budget. Finding $700 billion is not easy."
The final question was from a priest asking on behalf of an unemployed parishioner what the president's policies would do for him in the coming months. Mr. Obama said clean-energy initiatives hold some promise. "Some of the manufacturing jobs that have been lost just won't come back," Mr. Obama said.
The atmosphere of the event was all the more notable after a high-decibel political rally in Madison, Wis., Tuesday night that captured headlines and some of the excitement of the 2008 presidential campaign. Democrats have been urging Mr. Obama to try to excite the Democratic base, which they fear will stay home Nov. 2. That could lead to a rout that could cost Democrats control of at least one house of Congress.
Mr. Obama has three other major rallies planned, in Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Ohio. But White House officials say the backyard events are helping him reconnect with voters at a more intimate level. He held one in Albuquerque Tuesday and has another Wednesday afternoon in Richmond, Va.
Write to Jonathan Weisman at jonathan.weisman@wsj.com

Obama faces voter policy doubts in backyard meeting
By Patricia Zengerle – Wed Sep 29, 5:31 pm ET
DES MOINES (Reuters) – President Barack Obama defended his economic policies on Wednesday in the face of tough questions from skeptical Americans less than five weeks before congressional elections that threaten his fellow Democrats' grip on Congress.
Holding the latest in a series of backyard meetings with middle-class voters, Obama heard one small businessman's fears that his tax plans could "strangle" job creation. The president also fielded concerns about high unemployment and the impact of his healthcare overhaul.
It was a marked contrast to the enthusiastic university crowd that greeted Obama on Tuesday in Wisconsin when he sought to fire up his youthful base of support, and showed the obstacles his Democratic Party faces in the November 2 elections.
Obama stood up for his agenda but acknowledged the country faced "hard decisions" as he works to shore up the struggling economy and rein in huge budget deficits. "We're not going to be able to solve our big problems unless we honestly address them," he told about 70 people at an Iowa home.
One questioner brought up her 24-year-old son, who graduated from college and campaigned for Obama in 2008 but has been unable to find a full-time job. "He and many of his friends are struggling. They are losing their hope, which is a message that you inspired them with," she said.
A small businessman expressed concern about Obama's proposal to extend Bush-era tax cuts only on families with personal income of less than $250,000, and bemoaned policies he said would discourage hiring.
"As the government gets more and more involved in business and gets more involved in taxes to pay for an awful lot of programs, what you're finding is ... you're sort of strangling the engine that does create the jobs," the man said.
Obama said his tax proposal will help middle-class earners and avoid what he sees as unneeded tax breaks for wealthier Americans. The issue has sparked heated debate between Democrats and Republicans.
"I'd like to keep taxes low so that you can create more jobs. But I also have to make sure that we are paying our bills and that we're not ... putting off debt for the future generation," Obama told his questioner.
Representative Eric Cantor, a Republican whose Virginia district Obama also visited on Wednesday, sought to pre-empt the president's arrival with a call for him to support a bill that "will stave off tax hikes for every American."
In Virginia, Obama blasted Republicans - referring to Cantor without using his name -- for, he said, failing to offer concrete ideas and making a political calculation to refuse to work with him to address the country'sproblems.
"It's been a pretty successful strategy," Obama said. "Because right now, people are frustrated. All the good feeling we had coming in... has dissipated. That means a lot of the people who were supporting me are talking about maybe just staying home in the election. And meanwhile the other side's all ginned up: 'We can take power back,'" he told supporters crowding a community center to avoid a rainstorm.
Obama drew more than 26,000 people on Tuesday at the University of Wisconsin, where he appealed to young voters -- who tend to favor Democrats but are less likely to go to the polls -- to back his party. The mood was reminiscent of triumphant rallies late in his 2008 presidential campaign.
William Galston of the Brookings Institution called Obama the "best card that Democrats can play" to energize voters to stave off potentially steep losses in November. Polls show an enthusiasm gap, with Democrats less likely than Republicans to vote in the mid-term elections.
"If you see the enthusiasm gap ... cut significantly between now and election day, I think the president can claim some victory," said Galston, a veteran of the Clinton White House.
Questioners in Des Moines were polite and respectful; some expressed appreciation for Obama's hard work. But some questions were more pointed than at other such events.
Iowa traditionally stages the first nominating contest for presidential candidates and is in many ways a bellwether for the national mood. A poll in the Des Moines Register found 55 percent of likely voters in Iowa, which Obama won in 2008, said they were dissatisfied with him, while 42 percent approved of his job performance.
Richmond, Virginia, was the last stop on Obama's four-state trip meant to reinvigorate his party's base.
He appealed to Hispanics in weekend interviews on Spanish-language television and an education-focused backyard event in New Mexico. He targeted young voters in Madison and talked economics and the middle class in Iowa and Virginia.
(Writing by Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney and Todd Eastham)

MESSAGE: GOP lying to Americans

DES MOINES, Iowa – Arguing doggedly against returning Republicans to power, President Barack Obama told Iowa voters Wednesday that the GOP has been dishonest about what needs to be done to revive the economy and restore middle-class dreams.
"We can't pretend that there are shortcuts," the president said, addressing about 70 voters in a grassy backyard.
"When you look at the choice we face in this election coming up," Obama said, "the other side, what it's really offering is the same policies that from 2001 to 2009 put off hard problems and didn't really speak honestly to the American people about how we're gonna get this country on track over the long term."
Five weeks ahead of midterm elections that will determine whether Democrats retain control of Congress, Obama confronted stark voter angst. The first question he got was from a woman who said of her son, a recent college graduate, and his friends: "They are losing their hope which is a message you inspired them with."
Obama responded by citing a list of areas of optimism, ones she could tell her son about it. He said his government is providing more students loans, trying to encourage private job growth, and making tough decisions now that will help the county reclaim its rightful stand as the top leader in innovation and entrepreneurship.
Over the long term, the president assured, "their future will be fine."
Obama spoke to about 70 people at the home of Jeff and Sandy Clubb. It's the second such "backyard discussion" he's holding in as many days as he tries to convince Americans to keep Democrats in power. The president will finish a four-state tour Wednesday afternoon with a meeting with voters in Richmond, Va.
In the Clubb backyard the president had a homey setting, with a birdfeeder and tiki torches visible on the lawn behind him.
But his questioners, while polite, weren't always friendly, underscoring Democrats' challenge in winning votes in a troubled economy.
One man, who described himself as a small business owner manufacturing promotional items like T-shirts and lawn signs, criticized Obama's plans for allowing tax cuts on income over $250,000 a year to expire.
"As the government gets more and more involved in business and more and more involved in taxes, what you're finding is you're strangling those job creation vehicles," the man said.
The president disputed that, saying he's already signed eight pieces of legislation providing small business tax cuts.
Showing some frustration, Obama said: "Your taxes haven't gone up in this administration. Your taxes have gone down in this administration. There's a notion that, well, he's a Democrat so your taxes must have gone up. That's just not true."
"I also have to make sure we're paying our bills" and not leaving debt for future generations, the president said.
A priest in the audience told Obama of a parishioner who lost his job in manufacturing and can't find a new one. The president said that some manufacturing jobs won't come back and the parishioner might need to develop new skills to work in growth sectors like clean energy.
Even in an election season, the president said, he can't always tell people what they want to hear. Moving forward will take "some tough but necessary adjustments," he said.
There is irony in Obama using Iowa as a venue to try to avert a Republican landslide. His victory in the January 2008 Iowa caucus put him on the path to the Democratic presidential nomination, and he carried the state comfortably that November against Republican John McCain.
But almost every state is a battleground in this fall's congressional elections, and Obama is devoting ever more time to campaigning for his party.
A rally he held Tuesday night at the University of Wisconsin came the closest so far to recapturing the enthusiasm of his 2008 drive to the White House. He implored young voters who backed him in 2008 to vote for Democrats this fall.
"Every single one of you is a shareholder in that mission of rebuilding our country and reclaiming our future," he told thousands of students packing the campus's chilly Library Mall.
"We can't let this country fall backwards because the rest of us didn't care enough to fight," he said. "The stakes are too high for our country and for your future."

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