GOLDEN — President Barack Obama returned to Colorado last Thursday for a speech that mixed a tough foreign policy stance with his campaign’s message that a second Obama term would fight to restore the country’s middle class.
Just two days after an attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya killed the ambassador and three other Americans, Obama praised the diplomats and security “who serve in difficult and dangerous places all around the world to advance the interests and the values that we hold dear as Americans” and vowed to bring the assailants to justice.
“I want people around the world to hear me,” Obama said. “To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”
Acknowledging that these are “tumultuous” times, Obama told the crowd of more than 8,000 sardined into Lion’s Park that America will “meet those challenges if we stay true to who we are, and if we would remind ourselves that we’re different from other nations,” and then turned to more familiar themes of the campaign, drawing a contrast with the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
“Over the past few weeks, Colorado, you’ve been offered two very different paths for our future. You’ve seen their convention, you’ve seen ours, and now you face one big choice,” he said. “Our vision, our fight is to restore the basic bargain that built the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known, the promise that says hard work will pay off, if you work hard you can make it, that responsibility will be rewarded, that in this country of ours, everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share and everybody plays by the same rules — from Wall Street to Main Street to Washington, D.C.”
The audience booed when Obama charged that Republicans plan to cut education spending to “pay for more tax breaks for folks like me,” but Obama reprised a line he’s used in earlier Colorado visits: “Don’t boo, now — vote. Vote.”
It was the president’s ninth trip to Colorado this year and his third in a matter of weeks — following visits to the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins in late August and the University of Colorado campus in Boulder at the beginning of the month — and Republicans contended that the frequency of the president’s visits only underscores that Obama can’t count on the state’s nine electoral votes.
“It’s obvious he’s concerned that voters have lost faith in his leadership,” said state GOP chairman Ryan Call in a statement that welcomed Obama to Colorado. “Few have seen their lives improve under his failed economic policies.”
Two polls released that morning showed Obama with a slim lead among likely Colorado voters in a state he won with 55 percent of the vote four years ago. An Onsight Public Affairs/Project New America poll had Obama up 49-45 over Romney, just outside the poll’s margin of error, and a Public Policy Polling survey showed Obama leading 49-46, a lead slightly smaller than the poll’s margin of error.
Democrats aren’t taking anything for granted, said Jefferson County resident Nancy Perlmutter after the rally, adding that she was particularly pleased the president had appeared in her home county, considered a bellwether for the entire state.
“This is ground zero in a state that’s ground zero in battleground states,” she said, noting that her husband, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, was sorry he couldn’t be there, since he was in Washington because Congress was back in session.
“Jefferson County has a history of working hard and turning out for candidates — it’s going to be a big job, but, as you can see, we have a lot of people interested in doing that job, so I’m encouraged,” she said.
Golden City Council member Saoirse Charis-Graves said she was thrilled to see Obama speak in her hometown, crediting him with sparking her involvement politics in the first place.
“I’m only in politics because of him — I hated politics, I hated politicians, I wasn’t involved in politics at all — to me, they were just playing power games,” she said as the rally wound down. It was another Obama speech — his 2004 keynote address to the Democratic National Convention — that awakened her to politics.
“I believed he could provide leadership in a different direction and so I started working for him when he announced, as a grassroots volunteer, then I became interested in doing what I could in my community to change, and now I’m a city councilor,” she said with a smile.
“The fact that he has a plan that’s going to support middle class Americans — that’s what people need to hear, they need to know he’s going to fight for us and he’s going to be on our side,” she said.
State Rep. Max Tyler, a Golden Democrat locked in his own tight bid for reelection, said that Obama had delivered a message that would help sway Jefferson County’s evenly divided electorate.
“I thought he did a great job telling us how he’s going to get things done, working for the middle class and the regular people of Colorado. I thought he made it clear how he’s going to get it done, the number of steps he’s going to take,” Tyler said.
Standing near Tyler after the speech had concluded — and just a few feet away from Obama as he shook hands with supporters — Golden City Council member Marcia Claxton, a Republican, said she had found herself nodding her head at a number of points the president made.
“Attacking the deficit, encouraging our renewable energy here in Colorado that we’ve built a real strong base for, reduce our dependence on foreign oil — those are all things I like to hear, it doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat or independent,” she said, adding that she thinks of herself as “a Republican who wants to work with Democrats across the aisle and come up with sensible solutions to our problems.”
While she emphasized that she is a Republican, she said she could probably live with a second Obama term, if it came to that.
“I hope he’ll show more leadership and get things done if he’s reelected and make the best use of the last four years,” she said. “I think it’s possible, and he has plans, so hopefully he’ll reach across the aisle and work with Republicans for compromise and consensus.”
“I hope Republicans reach back,” Tyler interjected with a broad grin, which Claxton returned.
“I agree — and I guess consider myself a moderate Republican, more willing to work together to get things done,” she said.
It was a point Obama made during his speech.
“I’ve worked with Republicans in Congress already to cut a trillion dollars’ worth of spending, and I’m willing to work with them to do more,” Obama said. “Everybody talks about how partisan everything is. Listen, I am happy to work with Republicans. I want their cooperation. If they want me, I’ll wash the car, I’ll walk the dog for them to get a deal done for the American people.”
Still, he took some similarly playful jabs at a Republican sacred cow, mocking the notion that tax cuts are the answer for everything.
“If we cut more taxes, everybody is going to be okay — especially if we cut taxes at the top,” he said. “Tax cuts in good times. Tax cuts in bad times. Tax cuts when we’re at peace. Tax cuts when we’re at war. You need to make a restaurant reservation, you don’t need the new iPhone — here’s a tax cut for that. You want to learn a new language? Try a tax cut. Tax cut to lose a few extra pounds. Whatever ails you.”
Republicans got in their own digs at Obama after he announced that he was proud to be the first sitting president to visit the county since Ulysses S. Grant had in 1873, before the territory was even a state. While Democrats hastened to correct the record — Obama had misunderstood when Golden Mayor Marjorie Sloan mentioned the distinction, referring to the city rather than the county — state GOP spokesman Justin Miller didn’t let it slide.
Pointing out that President George W. Bush had spoken at nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater in 2004, Miller said in a statement, “President Obama is not the first president to visit Jefferson County. He is, however, the first president to visit Jefferson County with 43 straight months of higher than 8 percent unemployment and a $16 trillion national debt under his belt.”