Obama road-tests midterm message with speeches in Missouri, Nevada

By Michael D. Shear and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 8, 2010; 10:54 PM

LAS VEGAS -- President Obama on Thursday offered a sharp-edged preview of his election season campaign message, using fundraisers for Missouri Senate candidate Robin Carnahan and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) to cast the midterms as a choice between economic policies of the past and those of the future.

In remarks reminiscent of the campaign-year Obama that the country often saw in 2008, the president sought to frame the elections as a choice between the Republican economic policies that he said created the recession and the Democratic ones he said have led to a slow recovery.

"The last thing we should do is go back to the very ideas that got us into this mess [in] the first place," Obama said in Kansas City, Mo., with Carnahan standing beside him. "That's the choice you are going to face in November. . . . A choice between falling backward or moving forward."

The president has been slow to gear up his campaign-year rhetoric, a fact that has led to some criticism from his allies who want the White House to be more aggressive. A senior aide promised that "choice" rhetoric is "a theme you'll hear a lot of in the coming four months."

In recent days, West Wing officials have hinted that a tougher, more electorally engaged message was on the way. In a briefing for reporters, press secretary Robert Gibbs suggested Obama would seize on Republican comments that compared the recession to "an ant" and a GOP congressman's apology to BP.

The remarks, delivered first at a closed-door fundraiser and later at an open event in Missouri, largely lived up to that billing. The president offered a tough critique of the economic policies of the Bush era, and he said times have changed.

"They spent nearly a decade driving the country into a ditch and now they are asking for the car keys back. They can't have 'em back. They don't know how to drive," Obama said, expressing surprise that anyone would want to return to the past.

"We already know how this story ends. We don't have to guess how the other party will govern," he said.

Calling out Reps. John Boehner (Ohio), Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Joe Barton (Tex.) by name, Obama said that Republicans had said no to all of the Democratic proposals to address health care, fix the financial system, give women equal pay and hold oil companies accountable.

"Barton and Boehner and Blunt," he said. "Sometimes I wonder if that 'no' button is just stuck in Congress so they can't do what's right for the American people."

In a statement, Boehner responded: "On President Obama's watch, more than three million Americans have lost their jobs and unemployment is near 10 percent. The American people continue to ask, where are the jobs? But the President keeps whining and indulging in childish partisan attacks. How out of touch can he get?"

Obama ended the day at a fundraiser at a Las Vegas casino for Reid, where he delivered an expanded version of the speech he had given in Missouri twice already. But for Reid, Obama revved it up for the crowd of almost 3,000.

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