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White House defends Obama trips to key election states

November 28, 2011|By Peter Nicholas
  • A boy reaches out to high-five President Obama during an event last month at a high school in Emporia, Va., held as part of the president's push for his jobs plan.
A boy reaches out to high-five President Obama during an event last month… (Jason Reed / Reuters )

A president can deliver a speech from anywhere and be assured that it will receive ample attention.

So, why not give it in a swing state that is crucial to his reelection chances? That seems to have been the White House practice over the past year as advisors mapped out President Obama’s itinerary. Again and again, Obama has turned up in important battleground states to sell his policy agenda, demonstrate his concern about the frail economy, or even enjoy some downtime with family and friends.

A Wall Street Journal story documents the pattern, showing that Obama has eclipsed George W. Bush and Bill Clinton when it comes to appearances in presidential swing states: Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia to name a few. On Wednesday, when he flies to Scranton, Pa., to call for renewal of the payroll tax cut, Obama will have notched his 56th visit to a battleground state this year, the Journal reported.

The story prompted an extended exchange Monday between the White House press corps and Obama spokesman Jay Carney.

Carney maintained that Obama is, in some sense, a victim of his electoral success. He did so well in the 2008 presidential race that he turned some traditionally Republican states into true battlegrounds. So when he travels, it’s difficult to avoid hitting the enlarged ring of states that are now deemed battlegrounds.

“Now, every president who's occupied the Oval Office, just a few short minutes across the river from Virginia, travels to Virginia frequently to hold events,’’ Carney said.  “When you look at George W. Bush's travel as president, [Virginia is] not included on this list as a swing state or a battleground state because it was not perceived to be possible that a Democrat could win it.  But Barack Obama won that state, and he's made numerous visits to Virginia, just as most presidents prior to Barack Obama have made numerous visits to Virginia.’’

Pressed as to why Obama turns up in purplish North Carolina so much more than blood-red Tennessee, Carney said ,“He goes to red states, he goes to blue states, he goes to states that are considered battleground states--and those decisions are made for substantive reasons based on the policy issue that . . . he’s addressing.’’

It’s not quite so even-handed as all that, though. States aren’t chosen by throwing darts at a board.

Last month, Obama took a bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia -- you guessed it, two swing states.

During the trip, we asked a White House advisor why Obama had avoided certain parts of North Carolina. The advisor assured us that Obama would be back -- many times -- before the 2012 election.

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