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Obama Makes Economic Sales Pitch; Who's Buying?

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Obama Makes Economic Sales Pitch; Who's Buying?


Obama Makes Economic Sales Pitch; Who's Buying?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea, in for Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

As President Obama travels to New Jersey for an economics speech today, Americans' satisfaction with his handling of the economy remains at a low ebb.

In a moment, we'll hear how the Republicans hope to capitalize on that in the November midterm elections.

The president has been giving these economic speeches around the country since last January. But as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, it's far from clear whether the campaign is helping the president's cause.

ARI SHAPIRO: For any White House, the most precious commodity is the president's time, and sending him outside of Washington, even for just a few hours, is a huge commitment.

Mr. RALPH BASHAM (Command Consulting Group): Many people have described it as taking the White House on the road, and all of the capabilities that go with that.

SHAPIRO: Ralph Basham, of Command Consulting Group, was director of the Secret Service under President Bush.

Mr. BASHAM: The communications, the security, the support, the administration, the military - that gives the president, basically, the ability to run the country no matter where he is.

SHAPIRO: So the White House to Main Street Tour, as the administration calls it, requires a lot of effort. So far this year, President Obama has made more than a dozen trips like the one he's doing today. He generally tours a business that is adding jobs because of the Economic Recovery Act. And then he delivers a speech that's very similar from one stop to the next.

Two weeks ago, he spoke at the groundbreaking for an electric car battery plant in Holland, Michigan.

President BARACK OBAMA: We've aimed to grow our economy by harnessing the innovative spirit of the American people. Because we did, shovels will soon be moving earth, and trucks will soon be pouring concrete where we are standing.

SHAPIRO: It's an overt sales pitch. But judging by the president's poll numbers, Americans aren't buying. Week after week, approval of his economic policies drops. In a Reuters poll out yesterday, 67 percent of voters said Mr. Obama has not focused enough on creating jobs.

So why does the tour continue? White House Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki says the president benefits in ways that have nothing to do with his poll numbers.

Ms. JEN PSAKI (Deputy Press Secretary, White House): The purpose was to spend some time talking to people on the ground. And the goal is really to hear feedback, learn from people who are working, who are running businesses every day, about what's working, what's not working, just so we can come back and discuss and figure out how to continue the road to recovery.

SHAPIRO: She says there's no plan to end the tour, and she's not surprised that the speeches have so far failed to boost his approval ratings.

Ms. PSAKI: We know that the American people have suffered a great deal, and it's been frustrating for everybody, including the president, because we know that when you're dealing with a crisis of this depth, that recovery's not going to happen overnight.

SHAPIRO: But there are those who believe that the president, like yesterday's rock star, has been touring too long.

Mr. ED ROLLINS (Pollster, Political Consultant): Who's going to pay a whole lot of attention to the speech today? It's not like there's something new. You know, just by saying it over and over and over again, it's not going to convince anybody that things are really happening.

SHAPIRO: Ed Rollins was political director in the Reagan White House.

Mr. ROLLINS: The reality is, is if I was running the political operation at this point in time, I would really be out - anytime I'm outside the White House, I'd be campaigning.

SHAPIRO: And there is a campaign element to many of these trips. The speeches tend to be in swing states. Sometimes, the president does fundraisers for candidates in the same trip as an economics speech. He did that earlier this month, on a two-day trip through Kansas City and Las Vegas.

Professor BOB SHRUM (New York University): I think the president and his team have been road-testing themes for the midterm.

SHAPIRO: Bob Shrum was a longtime Democratic consultant, who now teaches at NYU.

Prof. SHRUM: We live in an environment where coverage is fragmented, getting a message through takes a long time, and developing that message can also take some time. So I think this is cumulative.

You've got to create a narrative. You've got to create a story for people. You try to moderate your losses in the midterm, and you lay the foundation to benefit when the recovery begins to be felt in people's lives.

SHAPIRO: Then the message may begin to take hold when the unemployment rate drops - assuming the unemployment rate drops.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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