Obama tells Coloradans: ‘We’re not going back, we’re moving forward’

President fires up the troops in Colorado visits
The Colorado Statesman

President Barack Obama encouraged graduating cadets to help build another “great American Century” and fired up supporters at a high-dollar campaign event as Air Force One touched down twice on Wednesday in this crucial swing state.

Obama delivered the commencement address at the Air Force Academy at Falcon Stadium north of Colorado Springs and then attended a sold-out fundraiser at the downtown Hyatt Regency Denver before winging off to the Bay Area to raise more campaign cash.

President Barack Obama addresses a sold-out fundraiser for his reelection campaign on May 23 in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Never bet against the United States of America,” Obama told the 1,073 Academy graduates. “And one of the reasons is that the United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs. It’s one of the many examples of why America is exceptional.”

State Rep. Crisanta Duran and Carrie Doyle, who heads the Obama campaign in Colorado, visit outside a sold-out fundraiser for the campaign on May 23 at the downtown Hyatt Regency Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I was here in the summer of 2008, and you were getting ready to head out to Jacks Valley,” Obama said, noting that this was his second visit to the Academy. “So I was proud to be here when you began this journey, and I thought I’d come back and help you celebrate at the end.”

After four years at the Academy — about the same stretch since he took office — the graduates were about to “step forward into a different world,” Obama said.

Harrison Dillard, a four-time Olympic Gold Medalist, and Herb Douglas, who won a Bronze Medal in the 1948 Games, pose for a snapshot with Lindsey and Bennett Dodge at a fundraiser for President Barack Obama on May 23 in Denver. In his remarks, Obama talked about meeting the athletes and the baby before the speech and said their stories helped demonstrate why he was running for a second term. “If people ask you what this campaign is about, you tell them it’s about these gentlemen and it’s about that baby,” the president said.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“You are the first class in nine years that will graduate into a world where there are no Americans fighting in Iraq,” he said as the crowd roared its approval. “For the first time in your lives — and thanks to Air Force personnel who did their part — Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to our country. We’ve put al Qaeda on the path to defeat. And you are the first graduates since 9/11 who can clearly see how we’ll end the war in Afghanistan.”

President Barack Obama shakes hands with donors at a fundraiser for his reelection bid on May 23 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

While he acknowledged that “the world stage is not a popularity contest,” Obama said America’s improved stature with other countries bolsters national security.

“Today, we can say with confidence and pride the United States is stronger and safer and more respected in the world, because, even as we’ve done the work of ending these wars, we’ve laid the foundation for a new era of American leadership. And now, cadets, we have to build it,” he said.

“This election will be closer than the last one. People don’t remember the last election was close,” President Barack Obama tells a crowd of about 550 donors at a fundraiser on May 23 in downtown Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who sits on the Academy Board of Visitors, accompanied Obama on the 20-minute flight to Buckley Air Force Base, where the president was greeted on the tarmac by Buckley commander Colonel Daniel Dant, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Chief Master Sgt. William Ward. The presidential party rode quickly across town, the motorcade unimpeded as stretches of Interstates 70 and 25 were closed to traffic.

“We have to move forward, to the future we imagined in 2008, where everybody gets a fair shot, everybody is doing their fair share, everybody is playing by the same set of rules,” says President Barack Obama at a fundraiser for his reelection bid on May 23 in downtown Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

At the Denver fundraiser, Obama invoked his new campaign slogan — “We’re not going back, we’re moving forward” — to blast presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney for trotting out “the same bad ideas that brought our economy to collapse the last time out.”

“We also know that the last thing we can afford to do after we’ve started to make progress, as we’re starting to turn the corner, is a return to the policies — the very same policies — that got us into this mess in the first place,” Obama told an estimated 550 donors who packed the downtown ballroom. “Not now. Not with so much at stake. We have come too far to abandon the change that we fought for over these past years. And that’s the choice in this election. That’s the reason I’m running for a second term as President of the United States of America.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio points out something across the ballroom to state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, during a fundraiser for President Barack Obama on May 23 at a downtown Denver hotel.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Obama told the crowd that the reputation Republicans have for curbing government spending is unfounded, citing a recent study that shows federal spending has risen at the slowest pace in six decades under his administration.

State Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, snaps a picture of Lisa and Jim Merlino at a fundraiser for President Barack Obama on May 23 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“After inheriting a $1 trillion deficit, I signed $2 trillion of spending cuts into law,” he said. “My opponent won’t admit it, but it’s been starting to appear in places — real liberal outlets like the Wall Street Journal.”
He said that Republican presidents routinely increase spending faster than Democrats, despite popular wisdom to the contrary.

A supporter snaps a picture of President Barack Obama on her smartphone at a fundraiser for his reelection campaign.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I don’t know how they’ve been bamboozling folks into thinking that they are the responsible, fiscally disciplined party. They run up these wild debts and then, when we take over we’ve got to clean it up.”

Tickets to the fundraiser ranged from $500 per person up to $40,000 for couples who got the chance to take a picture with the president. Some $250 tickets were available to younger supporters. Campaign officials wouldn’t say how much the event raised.

Mancos resident Tami Graham, who says the Affordable Care Act has helped her stay insured after a cancer diagnosis, introduces President Barack Obama at the fundraiser in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

It was Obama’s fifth visit to Colorado since last summer. The president launched a jobs package at Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver last September, touted a college-loan proposal on the Auraria campus in Denver about a month later, pitched his administration’s alternative energy programs at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora in January, and talked education policy at the University of Colorado in Boulder last month.

House District 31 candidate Joe Salazar and Denver Councilman Paul Lopez chat during a speech by President Barack Obama on May 23 at the Hyatt Regency Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

A Purple Strategies poll released a month ago showed Obama and Romney tied at 47 percent in Colorado. Public Policy Polling showed Obama with a 13-point lead over Romney in Colorado in a survey released earlier in April.

Obama won Colorado’s nine electoral votes in 2008, beating Republican nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain by 9 points. It was only the second time a Democrat has won Colorado since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide victory, but, along with a half dozen other states, Colorado is considered up for grabs this year and some analysts say it could determine the outcome of the presidential election.

Republicans wave signs at passing traffic across the street from a fundraiser for President Barack Obama in downtown Denver on May 23.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Promising that “this election will be closer than the last one,” Obama said, “We’re going to have to contend with even more negative ads, even more cynicism and nastiness and just plain foolishness.”

“We’ll just have to work harder!” shouted a supporter.

“That’s exactly right,” Obama replied.

Obama was introduced by Tami Graham, a Mancos woman with uterine cancer who was able to obtain high-risk insurance under Obama’s signature health care reform law. Graham won the distinction after posting to a blog that rounded up stories of people who say the Affordable Care Act has made life better.

Also speaking at the fundraiser were national co-chair of the Obama campaign John Register, local campaign organizer Cameron Lewis, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, and Hickenlooper, called “one of the funniest governors in the country” by Obama in his remarks.

Obama noted that he had taken pictures with three people who helped frame the case he was trying to make for a second term — two older men who both won medals in the 1948 Summer Olympics and an infant who turns 1 year old next week.

Harrison “Bones” Dillard, 88, a four-time Gold Medalist, and his friend Herb Douglas, 90, who won a Bronze in the long jump in 1948 — missing the Silver by a half inch — were among the first donors in the photo line, and 11-month-old Bennett Dodge, in the arms of his mother, Lindsey, was the last.

Dillard holds the distinction as the only male athlete to have won both sprinting and hurdling events, and for a while he was the fastest man in the world. He won Gold Medals in the 100-meter dash and the 400-meter relay in 1948 and won two more Gold Medals, this time in the 110-meter hurdles and again in the 400-meter relay, at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.

Both Dillard and Douglas were friends with Jesse Owens, and for more than two decades Douglas organized the annual Jesse Owens Award for athletes and world figures committed to peace.

Obama chatted with the two “about all the changes they’ve seen, everything that’s happened in their lifetimes,” and said that got him “imagining what the world looked like then and, because in part of the example they set, what the world looks like now.” Then, after meeting young Dodge — who drooled on the president, Obama said with a smile — that got him thinking about all the changes the lad will see over his lifetime.

The stories of the older athletes and the youngster, Obama said, “are bound together.”

“That little baby, these two handsome gentlemen — they’re part of that same story of who we are as Americans, and they understand that we’re bound together,” Obama told the audience. “And if people ask you what this campaign is about, you tell them it’s about these gentlemen and it’s about that baby. You tell them it’s about hope. You tell them it’s still about change. You tell them it’s still about ordinary people who believe in each other, who believe we have more in common than anything that drives us apart, who believe that in the face of great odds, we can make a difference in the life of this country.”

Across the street, several dozen Republicans and Tea Party followers protested in front of the Colorado Convention Center, waving signs that read “Fundraiser in Chief,” “Enough Debt & Blame,” and “Marxism is NOT an American Concept.”

Some held oversized pictures of Newark Mayor Cory Booker above the slogan “Stop Obama’s Nauseating Attacks.” It was a reference to the New Jersey Democrat’s contention last weekend that the Obama campaign’s broadsides against Romney’s record at Bain Capital were “nauseating” and were on a par with an independent group’s contemplated attacks on Obama over his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, an incendiary Chicago pastor.

Booker has since backtracked, but Republicans pressed the case on his behalf.

“Class warfare is an Obama-made disaster,” read a smaller sign attached to a poster depicting Booker’s face.
Republican Bea Johnson of Westminster, who described herself as “a conscientious citizen who’s going to work diligently for Mitt Romney,” said she was concerned that Obama’s health care plan could bankrupt the country, pointing to rising cost estimates in Canada, where the government provides health care.

She also took issue with Obama’s energy proposals.

“I don’t like to hear myths like ‘fracking pollutes water supplies,’” she said. “The fact that Obama wouldn’t approve that Keystone Pipeline with neighbors as good as Canada, and 20,000 jobs it could give us, that’s ridiculous.”

State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call said he was pleased so many had showed up on short notice “to send an important message to the president, that sitting in those fundraisers and raising $40,000 a plate is not what he needs to be doing when he’s here in Colorado. He needs to be talking about the issues, and really demonstrating leadership on the big challenges our country faces, and he’s failing to do that.”

The protesters, he said, included “folks having a hard time, frustrated with the president’s failed policies, that are concerned about his attacks on the free market and the free enterprise system that is what drives the economy and creates jobs.”

Call lamented the job prospects of recent college graduates and noted that, while Colorado’s official unemployment rate sat below the national average, the number of dispirited workers who had left the labor force would push the unofficial rate into the high teens.

The unemployment crisis hits close to home for Call, who said his brother, who holds a doctorate in physics, was recently laid off from a solar energy manufacturing company.

“The president’s policies have not helped create the kinds of jobs that he promised to make,” Call said. “We’re trying to underscore that we want to see leadership from Washington his administration, we want to see leadership from this administration — he’s just not doing it.”

Call charged that “uncertainty” and Obama’s “renewed and constant attacks” on the people who are creating jobs are keeping the economy down.

“That uncertainty is causing a lot of business owners just to sit on their hands,” Call said. “A Romney administration will once again inspire people to once again invest their own capital because they know they’re going to be able to reap the benefits of taking that risk, and putting themselves out there and helping to build and create jobs.”

Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown hammered Obama in a conference call with reporters on the morning of the president’s Colorado appearances.

He called it “ironic” that Obama paired the Denver fundraiser with a commencement speech “because the failure of this president is most dramatically exhibited in his treatment of college students.” Brown blasted the rise in college tuition rates under Obama and said that just over half of college graduates under age 25 have full-time jobs, which he termed “literally the lowest rate in recorded history.”

“So for the president to appear on college campuses is ironic because it’s a symbol of his greatest area of failure,” said Brown, who served as president of the University of Northern Colorado and interim president of the Unversity of Colorado after retiring from the Senate. “In Colorado, it’s highlighted by the fact that he refuses to address the problem with our entitlements and that’s a big problem for college students because the growing entitlement demand on the state of Colorado funds has literally sucked the life blood out, sucked the funding away from colleges and universities.”

Brown also took the president to task for his heavy fundraising schedule.

“Today marks the 140th fundraiser that the president has engaged in since his campaign started,” Brown said. “It’s roughly two and a half times to three times as many fundraisers up to this point in the year as any president in history has done.”

After departing Colorado, Obama headed to northern California for a trio of fundraisers, including an intimate dinner at a private home where donors could hear a performance by David Crosby and Graham Nash for $35,800 apiece. After that, he planned to attend a concert with Ben Harper, where 1,100 people paid $250 for tickets. On Thursday, Obama had a small fundraiser scheduled in San Jose, costing $35,800 per person.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com