Sep 272011
Authors: Peter Nicholas McClatchy-Tribune

DENVER — Even as President Barack Obama crosses the country selling his jobs plan, his advisers aren’t banking on an economic turnaround to make voters more upbeat about his record come the 2012 election.

During his three-day western swing, Obama faithfully pitched his $447 billion proposal, asserting it would give the wheezing economy a lift by putting more money in workers’ pockets and 2 million people back to work.

But his campaign team concedes that game-changing drops in the unemployment rate won’t happen anytime soon. For Obama to win re-election, he needs to shift the focus from his stewardship of the economy to the stark choice confronting voters about the nation’s political leadership.

That requires a more partisan, campaign-style message, which Obama used on this trip:

Republicans need to be defeated, not accommodated. In Washington state, California and at a Denver high school on Tuesday, Obama infused his speeches with an edge reminiscent of the 2010 midterm elections.

He also started to single out Republican presidential candidates. At a fundraising event in San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, Obama criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry for “denying climate change” even though his state is “on fire.”

And he presented himself as a middle-class “warrior” combating a Republican Party determined to protect the affluent.

“This election isn’t only going to be about reliving the past,” said a top Obama campaign adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss strategy. “Most Americans are very concerned about the future and the direction we’re going to take. They understand the problems that we’re dealing with were a long time in the making, and they understand that it’s going to take more time than anyone would like to work our way out of it.”

Obama’s spicier rhetoric has delighted his core supporters. Many Democrats saw the president as too accommodating to the GOP in the summer deal to end the debt-ceiling crisis.

“What a lot of people have been waiting for is for him to fight back,” said Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Obama is tapping into resentment over the growing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The argument reinforces his call for curbing long-term deficits through a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthiest Americans.

It also helps the president forge an emotional connection with his base, especially minorities and working-class voters who have been falling behind.

Over the past three decades, income inequality has widened. In 1979, the wealthiest 1 percent of the population claimed 9 percent of the nation’s pre-tax income, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By 2006, that income figure had doubled to 18.1 percent. Over the same period, the bottom 80 percent of the population saw its share of the pie shrink.

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