President Barack Obama heard from voters anxious about education costs, stagnant incomes, gaps in pay between men and women, and gun control as he sought to reassure Americans that the U.S. economy is on the right track.
As he began a two-day visit to Minnesota, a Democratic-leaning state, Obama said in Minneapolis that even as the nation has recovered from the worst recession in more than seven decades, “there are a lot of folks struggling out there.”
The president expressed sympathy for those who are still seeking a job or whose wages haven’t kept pace with prices, while emphasizing that the economy is improving.
“The one thing that I always remind people of is, on just about every economic measure, we are significantly better off than we were when I came into office,” he told his audience.
The message is one Obama wants to drive home as dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy is weighing on Democratic congressional candidates in the November elections. Republicans, who already control the House, are working to gain a net six seats in the Senate needed to reach a majority there.
The weakness of the U.S. recovery was underscored by yesterday’s government report that gross domestic product contracted at a 2.9 percent rate in the year’s first three months, its worst performance since the lowest point of the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 2.31 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,957.22 at the close in New York, paring an earlier drop of as much as 0.8 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 21.38 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,846.13.
In Minnesota, where he’s also raising money for Democrats, Obama is highlighting a “Day in the Life” story of a middle-income voter. Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser to the president, said the goal is to draw a contrast between Democrats and Republicans.
Obama had lunch today at a pub in Minneapolis with Rebekah Erler of St. Anthony, Minnesota, and she joined him at a town-hall meeting.
Erler wrote to Obama in March about the cost of living and other financial struggles of the middle class. She is an accountant and her husband is a carpenter and they have two young boys, according to the White House.
Her letter and Obama’s response are in a You Tube video released by the White House yesterday.
“I know staying silent about what you see and what needs changing never makes any difference, so I’m writing you to let you know what it’s like for us in the middle of the country and I hope you will listen,” she said in the letter.
Erler said they talked over lunch about mortgages and the cost of day-care and food.
“I got the chance to start a conversation about what a lot of the people I know are going through,” she said, describing Obama as “amazing” and “personable.”
Obama also is highlighting Minnesota’s move to raise the state minimum wage. The rate would gradually increase to $9.50 an hour by 2016 and then would be indexed to inflation.
Obama wants Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25.
Minnesota is friendly territory for Obama. He won 53 percent of the state’s vote in 2012 and 54 percent in 2008. Both of Minnesota’s U.S. senators are Democrats, as are five of its eight representatives in the House.
Tonight, Obama was the guest at a fundraiser for Democratic congressional candidates hosted by Sylvia and Sam Kaplan, Obama’s former U.S. ambassador to Morocco until 2013.
Obama said 2014 elections are critical for people such as Erler, and that the struggles of the middle class need attention from Washington.
“We talk about phony scandals, we talk about Benghazi, we talk about polls and we talk about the Tea Party. We don’t talk about her,” Obama said, referring to Erler. “The other side has nothing to offer except cynicism and fear and frustration.”
About 60 supporters attended. They contributed as much as $32,400 per couple for a VIP reception, photo with the president and dinner to benefit U.S. House Democrats.
The president is scheduled to give a speech tomorrow on economic policy before returning to Washington.
To contact the reporter on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at email@example.com