Obama vows to keep listening, fighting

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 27, 2014 - 9:49 PM

Band-shell speech, stop at job-training site end visit.

President Obama ended his whirlwind two-day visit to the Twin Cities on Friday by letting rip a speech extolling the virtues of his priorities and achievements, while drawing sharp contrasts with Republicans heading into the high-stakes midterm elections.

“Instead of giving tax breaks for millionaires, let’s give more tax breaks for working families,” Obama told a crowd of about 3,500 cheering supporters at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. “Instead of protecting companies that are shifting profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share, let’s put people to work rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports.”

The president’s 35-minute speech capped his Minnesota stay and came after a visit to an inner-city job-training program in north Minneapolis.

Obama is at a critical time in his second term, with Republicans seizing on his slumping national approval ratings and handing him defeats on everything from raising the minimum wage to workplace equality for women. Obama is anxious to ensure Democrats keep control of the U.S. Senate in the coming election, since a change would be a major blow to his hopes for significant accomplishments in his final two years in office.

Republicans are trying to frame Obama and his policies as out of touch with average Americans, highlighting new data showing sagging economic growth in the first three months of the year.

“Instead of coming to Minnesota to listen and consider a different approach on the struggling economy, it’s clear President Obama’s visit is all about doubling down on his failed, partisan agenda and pumping up Democrats ahead of a tough midterm election,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short said.

Republicans also are doing all they can to tie Obama to first-term U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat who has supported many Obama policies and faces a re-election fight this fall.

“The fact of the matter is that Al Franken and Barack Obama have given America one of the worst economic recoveries in the history of the United States,” said Tom Erickson, spokesman for GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden.

Franken did not attend the Lake Harriet speech but earlier joined Obama at a north Minneapolis workforce development center. Franken and the president wanted to highlight the importance of addressing the nation’s skills gap, in which jobs go unfilled because many too many applicants lack the necessary skills.

Franken said Minnesota has led the effort to have employers and educators forge partnerships that ensure workers get the proper training to fill available jobs. “I’m pleased the president is making this a national priority,” Franken said.

Obama sharpened his criticism of Republicans, matching their intensified attacks.

“So far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every single serious idea to strengthen the middle class,” Obama said.

“They’ve said no to raising the minimum wage. They’ve said no to fair pay,” he said. “Some of them have denied that there’s even a problem, despite the fact that women are getting paid 77 cents for every dollar a man is getting paid.”

As the president went farther down his list, the crowd booed.

“Don’t boo,” he told them. “I want you to vote.”

‘Biggest challenge is turnout’

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said the president’s visit is a huge energizer for the party, which will need a strong turnout to return Franken to the Senate and hand DFL Gov. Mark Dayton a second term.

“Our biggest challenge is turnout,” said Ellison, whose district encompasses Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs. “My campaign, the lowest thing we are going to do is get me re-elected. Our real goal is to massively drive up the turnout.”

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