September 28th, 2011
The New York Times
By: Mark Landler
After two days of energetically raising money in the rarefied precincts of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, President Obama stopped at a big-city high school here on Tuesday to push for new ways to spend money.
Promoting his $450 billion jobs bill, Mr. Obama said the $25 billion in the legislation for repairing and renovating schools would allow Abraham Lincoln High School, a well-kept but aging institution, to update science laboratories of a 1960s vintage.
“My question to Congress is: What on earth are we waiting for? Let’s get to work,” Mr. Obama said to a boisterous crowd of students. Speaking in shirtsleeves under a baking sun, he asked: “Why should our students be allowed to study in crumbling, outdated schools? How does that give them the sense that education is important?”
Neither Mr. Obama’s choice of Colorado, nor of this heavily Latino high school in a struggling part of Denver, were remotely accidental. He carried Colorado in 2008, and with his support wobbling in other swing states like Ohio, analysts believe he will need to hold on to it next year to put together a winning electoral map.
But Colorado, as much as any state, symbolizes the ebb tide in Mr. Obama’s political fortunes. He accepted the Democratic nomination in this state and signed the $787 billion stimulus package here. But with the jobless rate here rising to 8.5 percent from 7.4 percent since then, even Democrats here say Colorado could be an uphill battle.
The Lincoln High speech also enabled Mr. Obama to reach out to Latino voters, who helped elect him. More than 95 percent of the students here receive federal meal benefits, local officials said — a measure of the depth of poverty in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Reprising the populist themes of recent speeches in Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, Mr. Obama repeatedly challenged Republicans to pass the jobs bill. Extending the cut in payroll taxes would put $1,700 into the pockets of a typical Colorado working family, Mr. Obama said, and refusing to do so would amount to hitting them with a tax increase. Cries of “pass the bill” competed with chants of “four more years.”
Far from rejecting the Republican accusation that he is waging class warfare, Mr. Obama now seems to revel in it.
“If asking a millionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher makes me a class warrior, a warrior for the middle class, I will accept that; I’ll wear that as a badge of honor,” Mr. Obama said. “Because the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against the middle class in this country for a decade now.”
For all the populist fire on display, Colorado may be kinder to Mr. Obama than the traditional battlegrounds of the Midwest because of its more affluent and educated independent voters.
While Mr. Obama has lost support among independents generally, he retains a narrow approval rating — 50 percent to 43 percent — among those who earn more than $100,000 a year, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. A senior adviser to Mr. Obama said his message of innovating to keep America competitive would also resonate with the technology workers sprinkled through Denver’s suburbs.
If approved, the American Jobs Act would modernize at least 35,000 schools nationwide, according to the White House. But Republicans in Congress are unlikely to approve this provision, or any other spending that could be construed as fiscal stimulus.
White House officials said they expected the House to go along with a few elements of the package, like the extension of the cut in the payroll tax and the expansion of unemployment insurance. Mr. Obama has not ruled out accepting this piecemeal approach.
Mr. Obama’s brief stop in Denver wound up a hectic three-day West Coast tour that served mainly to fortify his campaign coffers after a fallow summer in which he was stuck in Washington, bickering with Republicans over the debt ceiling.
In Los Angeles, at a slick West Hollywood restaurant, the president basked in the love of an entertainment-industry crowd that included the actress Eva Longoria; the director Judd Apatow; the music producer Quincy Jones; and Jeffrey Katzenberg, a DreamWorks studio executive.
“I have a dependency on President Obama,” Mr. Katzenberg said, slipping into the argot of his industry. “He inherited a crashing economy and two wars. Yet he kept us moving forward. We must keep fighting for him so he can keep fighting for us.”
Thanking Mr. Katzenberg, the president joked that some people in the room, each of whom paid $17,900 for the privilege of being there, knew him before he had gray hair. “You don’t have gray hair,” cried one, proving that Hollywood is, as ever, the land of make-believe.