WASHINGTON — With the first contest of the Republican presidential primary over, President Barack Obama will hustle to get back into the spotlight, jetting to battleground state Ohio on Wednesday to renew his push for boosting the economy.
The White House says the speech at a Shaker Heights high school is official business, but it also makes clear that Obama doesn't plan to keep a low profile as Republicans narrow their contest for a challenger.
Obama, who returned to the White House Tuesday after a 10-day, off-the-grid vacation in Hawaii, was to address Iowa Democrats attending their caucuses Tuesday night via a video link from a Washington hotel. It was Iowa that four years ago delivered the then-senator from Illinois a breakthrough victory, and his re-election campaign Tuesday emailed supporters a video of Obama's January 2008 victory speech, contending that Obama has kept the promises he made that night — "from ending the war in Iraq to making health care affordable for all Americans, providing a middle-class tax cut and reducing our dependence on foreign oil."
The Republican National Committee used the same remarks to argue that a "look back at Obama's record of failure reveals a litany of broken promises, not only to Iowa, but the rest of the country."
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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that Obama would use the video address to thank his Iowa supporters, tout his administration's accomplishments and talk about "all the work that needs to be done."
Despite the timing and location of the Ohio visit, White House officials said it's too early for Obama to get engaged in campaign politics and insisted that his focus remains in Washington, boosting the U.S. economy.
"How long the process takes in the other party to pick a nominee is really anyone's guess," Carney said. "He's got a lot of work to do before he engages aggressively in the general election campaign. That will come in due time."
The president's re-election campaign, nevertheless, is already in full swing in Chicago: It bought a banner ad on the Des Moines Register's home page, just above the newspaper's coverage of the Iowa caucuses.
Obama's trip Wednesday is a continuation of a strategy White House advisers developed last fall. They believe the strategy has been successful in distancing the president from the heated partisan battles of Washington while giving him the opportunity to make his case to the public as his Republican challengers lambaste his record.
Administration officials have said that they believe improved poll numbers suggest voters gave Obama credit for acting despite Republican opposition in Congress, and senior administration officials said Tuesday that he'd continue to travel the country and push for passage of elements of his jobs-creation package. The White House says that helps fashion Obama as a fighter for the middle class.
Carney wouldn't say whether Obama would announce any new initiatives in Ohio, only that his remarks would be "focused on the economy and on what he can do as president to deliver on his promise to do everything he can to help the middle class ... working with Congress collaboratively where we can and either with the private sector or through executive action where we must."
White House officials suggested that the looming November election may pressure Republicans into supporting some Obama initiatives — or campaign empty-handed.
They argued that the two-month compromise on extending a payroll tax extension — reached just before the December holiday recess — wouldn't have been possible without Obama's pressuring Congress to do so, and they pointed to House Republicans who broke ranks on the issue as proof.
Obama wants a full-year extension of the measure. Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Hawaii that the extension was the only "must-do item of business" for Obama to accomplish with Congress in 2012.
Republicans panned the remarks as an attempt to govern without Congress. Advisers insisted Tuesday that Obama wants to work with lawmakers but will move ahead on his own initiatives if he's blocked.
"When Congress refuses to act, when Republicans choose the path of obstruction rather than cooperation, then the president's not going to sit here," Carney said. "Gridlock in Washington is not an excuse for inaction."
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