Obama continues Midwest tour with populist cast

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010; 6:43 PM

QUINCY, ILL. -- President Obama said Wednesday that he was "very pleased" financial regulatory legislation appeared headed to the Senate floor, using a speech in this economically depressed river town to assure the public that he will impose new restrictions on the financial sector.

"It was a heads you win, tails you lose situation" on Wall Street, the president told an exuberant audience of 2,300 people. "What was working for them was not working for ordinary Americans."

The half-hour speech, coming as Republican senators said they would allow debate on the legislation to begin, concluded Obama's two-day swing through territory that has grown less friendly to his party since his 2008 election.

Obama hopped from Iowa to Missouri to Illinois, touring an ethanol refinery Wednesday to promote clean energy and stopping for burgers he rarely gets at home.

He has used this leg of the "White House to Main Street" trip, as administration officials call it, to link risky financial speculation to the dire economic straits many small towns are enduring nearly two years after the near-collapse of the financial system. He said the recession was "born" on Wall Street.

His speeches, such as the one here in this town on the Mississippi River, have had a distinctly populist cast and his early reluctance to assign partisan blame to the sluggish pace of reform efforts has disappeared. Obama has repeatedly criticized Republicans lawmakers for hanging up the bill, and Wall Street lobbyists for trying to destroy the most stringent regulations it contains.

He did so again Wednesday, saying he did not "begrudge" wealth that is "fairly earned." But in a departure from his prepared remarks, he added, "I think at some point you have made enough money."

He used the word "irresponsible" to describe Wall Street and Washington several times, drawing a shout at one point from the supportive crowd to "keep fighting." He called the big banks "casinos" that had taken "unbelievable risks with other people's money."

"Folks like you were living up to their responsibilities the best they could, but found themselves hurting in ways they never expected because folks in Washington and Wall Street weren't living up to theirs," he told the crowd inside the Oakley Lindsay Center.

Obama started the day by flying from Iowa to Missouri, a state he lost by less than a single percentage point in 2008. He toured the POET Biorefining Co. in Macon, and told an audience of employees that promoting clean energy has been a top priority since he took office.

Among those joining him in Macon was Robin Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of state, who is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate this year. Carnahan ducked Obama's March fundraising visit to St. Louis, and was criticized from within the party for doing so. In introducing Carnahan at the biorefinery, Obama called her "one of my favorite people."

But the uncertain benefits that Obama brings to his party's candidates here underscores the slip he has suffered among independents, many of whom say the spending he has called necessary to prevent economic collapse was extravagant and unnecessary.

Both Missouri and Iowa, where he spent Tuesday talking with organic farmers, workers at a wind-turbine blade manufacturing plant, and 2,100 people at a town hall-style forum, have unemployment rates below the 9.7 percent national average.

Illinois, his home state, is a different matter. The state unemployment rate is 11.5 percent, and many of the historic brick buildings in downtown Quincy, site of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, sit vacant and boarded up.

The economic hardship here may make the estimated 2,000 people who will gather at the Oakley Lindsay Center particularly receptive to Obama's call for stricter controls on Wall Street. About two dozen protesters also assembled outside the auditorium, waving "Don't Tread on Me" flags and anti-illegal immigration signs.

Obama will be joined by Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer and the Democratic candidate for Obama's old Senate seat in November. Giannoulias is a longtime friend of Obama's, and he was invited to the White House recently to celebrate Greek Independence Day.

But the controversy surrounding the collapse of Broadway Bank, owned by the Giannoulias family, has shadowed his candidacy. The White House worked privately last year to find a potentially stronger candidate for the race.

Among them was Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general, who will appear with Obama here, too.

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