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With Senate at stake, Obama touts economic gains

October 2, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama told voters on Thursday that he and Democrats succeeded in pulling the U.S. economy back from the brink of collapse during the Great Recession but acknowledged it was still tough going for the middle class.

He spoke at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in a suburb of Chicago, his adopted hometown, just five weeks before an election in which Republicans are seen as having a better than even chance at taking control of the Senate and dooming the White House legislative agenda.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Obama said. “For all the work that remains, for all the citizens we still need to reach, what I want people to know is that there are some really good things happening in America.”

He cited advances in energy production and new technology that have created new jobs. More money for education to retrain the workforce and put American educational standards more on a global standard. His health care reform that provides assurances that an illness doesn’t lead to bankruptcy. Reforms to the financial sector to prevent the kind of near-collapse that deepened and prolonged the Great Recession.

The president has spent weeks consumed with international crises and now the firestorm over failures by the Secret Service, the agency charged with protecting him. Obama’s speech was designed to break out of those crises and talk economics and politics.

And voters still are keying on that issue. The new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that nine in 10 likely voters said the economy was an important issue, outpacing rising concerns about terrorism, ongoing concerns about health care, and the social issues that have led to sharp clashes on the campaign trail.

In the coming weeks while voters make up their minds on candidates in the midterm election that will decide whether Republicans gain full control of Congress, Obama plans to speak out more during that time on pocketbook concerns, including a jobs speech Friday in Indiana.

Many important economic indicators are good — unemployment has been going down, consumer spending is up and housing prices are rising. The Labor Department reported Thursday that the total number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits had dropped to its lowest level in more than eight years. The stock market hit new records in the past month, then softened in recent days.

Obama walked a delicate line between claiming credit for an economic recovery without seeming to disregard continuing hard times. The remarks did not lay out new policy ideas, but sought to re-enforce what he’s done to help the U.S. recover from the Great Recession that he inherited when taking office in January 2009.

Obama also acknowledged the reality that many Americans aren’t experiencing the recovery and argued that more needs to be done.

“Even when you’re working your tail off; it’s harder than it should be to get ahead,” the president said. “This isn’t just a hangover from the great recession, either. I have always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, but our economy won’t be truly healthy until we reverse the much longer and profound erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes.”

Obama chose Northwestern because of its reputation as a scholarly business school and the ideal setting for an address that delved deeper into economic issues than a typical campaign speech.

A big sign of U.S. economic health will be a jobs report coming out Friday.

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