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As midterms loom, Obama shifts spotlight to economy

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[October 03, 2014]  By Roberta Rampton
 
 EVANSTON Ill. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama tried on Thursday to turn the spotlight on the economy, the issue U.S. voters care about most ahead of November midterm elections, making the case that his policies have steered the country away from the brink of collapse and laid a foundation for growth.

It's the second take for a strategy that the White House rolled out in June, only to have its optimistic message drowned out by crises in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and western Africa.

While he said his speech was not political, Obama sought to contrast Democratic policies with those of Republicans, arguing he needs the Senate to stay in Democrats' hands in November elections to accomplish economic goals like raising the minimum wage, retraining workers for better jobs and spending more on infrastructure projects.

"Make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them," he said on a visit to a Chicago suburb.

The response from Republicans was swift.

"This administration has thrown a wet blanket over the economy with its focus on spending, borrowing, taxing and regulating, and those things clearly havenít worked. We need to move in a different direction," said Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate.


 


Obama walked the crowd through a list of statistics he has been trumpeting all summer.

Unemployment has been slashed since 2009. The energy, tech and manufacturing sectors are booming. So is the stock market. Exports have surged. The deficit has been trimmed.

"What I want people to know is that there are some really good things happening in America,Ē Obama said in a 45-minute speech to about 1,000 people at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

"By every economic measure, we are better off now than when I took office," he said.

But polls show the good-news message is a hard sell. During Obama's watch, average family incomes have fallen by more than $2,100, Census Bureau data shows.

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Fewer than one in 10 Americans believe Obama is doing a great job on the economy, polling data from Ipsos shows, and about two-thirds of the population believes the economy is heading the wrong way.

"It's hard to convince those people who are still suffering

that things are getting better," said Matthew Green, associate

professor of politics at the Catholic University of America.

Obama acknowledged that for many Americans, "itís still harder than it should be to pay the bills and to put away some money" and said it could take years of investments and changes in policies to expand the economy.

"If we take the necessary steps to build on the foundation Ö I promise you that over the next 10 years, we will build an economy where wage growth is stronger than it was in the past three decades," he said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by John Whitesides and Cynthia Osterman)

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