Obama Blasts GOP On Trip To Wisconsin

President Obama on Wednesday traveled to Racine, Wis., where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average. He took questions from residents and gave them a preview of what is likely to be his 2010 campaign speech.

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President Barack Obama traveled, yesterday, to Wisconsin, to the city of Racine, where the unemployment rate - 14.2 percent - is far higher than the national average. The president delivered a fiery speech bashing Republicans and their ideas. As NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports, the speech was a preview of the one he'll be delivering on the campaign trail this fall, as he tries to help his party hold on to its majorities in the House and Senate.

MARA LIASSON: It's only June, but President Obama's stop in Racine had the look and feel of a campaign rally. An apron of red, white and blue bunting ringed the stage as he ripped the Republicans, focusing first on comments the house minority leader John Boehner made about the financial reform bill.

President BARACK OBAMA: The leader of the Republicans, in the House, said that financial reform was like, and I'm quoting here, "using a nuclear weapon to target an ant." That's what he said. He compared the financial crisis to an ant. This is the same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly eight million jobs, same crisis that cost people their homes, their life savings. He can't be that out of touch.

LIASSON: Then he turned to another useful Republican foil, Texas Congressman Joe Barton, and his much publicized and since retracted, comments about BP.

President OBAMA: The top Republican on the Energy Committee apologized to BP. Did y'all read about that? He apologized to BP that we had made them set up this fund. Called it a tragedy that we had made them pay for the destruction that they've caused.

LIASSON: White House aides say this is just a taste of the battle the president wants to have in the fall. It's what Democratic strategists like Paul Begala have been eagerly awaiting.

Mr. PAUL BEGALA (Democratic strategist): I think that everybody knows, now, the Democrats ideas. And some they like and some they don't - health care, student loans, bank reform. They don't know anything about the Republicans ideas. And when Democrats say the Republicans have no idea, they're leaving half of their ammunition off the battlefield. This should be a choice, not a referendum. Don't make it a referendum just on our ideas. Make it a choice between Democratic ideas and Republican ideas.

LIASSON: That's what the president attempted to do in Racine yesterday. We tried the other side's theories, he said. We know what their ideas are.

President Obama: So their prescription for every challenge is pretty much the same. And I don't think I'm exaggerating here. Basically basically -basically, cut taxes for the wealthy, cut rules for corporations and cut working folks loose to fend for themselves.

LIASSON: Mid-term elections are a chance for voters to give the governing party in Washington a report card. And polls show they are already the president poor grades for handling the economy. So Mr. Obama wants to frame their task in a different way.

President OBAMA: So now we've got a choice. We can return to what we know did not work or we can build a stronger future. We can go backwards or we can go forward. And I don't know about you, but I want to move forward in this country.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: As for the president's targets, House Republican Leader John Boehner's office said Mr. Obama was engaging in childish partisanship. And the chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, said attacking Republicans is a lot easier than explaining to the citizens of Racine, Wisconsin why they face 14 percent unemployment when he promised it wouldn't go above eight percent.

It's the kind of back and forth, voters are likely to hear a lot more of between now and November.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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