President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at The Associated...

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at The Associated Press luncheon during the ASNE Convention in Washington. (April 3, 2012) Credit: AP

Making his case for re-election, President Barack Obama said Tuesday the nation must restore a sense of security for hard-working Americans and stand for a government willing to help those in hard times. The Democratic president blasted Republicans by name and said the choice between the parties is "unambiguously clear."

Stirring anew the themes of his State of the Union speech, Obama said the central issue for the country is deciding whether it wants to give everyone a fair chance — with government as a tool to help do that — or whether it is content to let only the wealthy succeed.

Obama used his speech, at the annual meeting of The Associated Press, to paint his Republican rivals as protectors of a trickle-down economic philosophy that does not work. He spoke on the day that GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney was expected to move closer to seizing his party's nomination as voters went to the polls in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Obama directly challenged Romney for embracing a $3.5 trillion budget proposal led by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that was approved by the House last week. Ryan's proposal aims to slash the federal deficit and reduce the size of government. It stands little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, yet Obama targeted it as a symbol of the Republican vision for the country.

The president said that instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress have "doubled down" and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the "Contract With America" look like the "New Deal."

The Contract with America was the policy document that helped Republicans win the House in 1994 and propelled Newt Gingrich into the speakership. The New Deal was President Franklin Roosevelt's plan for pulling the nation out of the Great Depression.

Yet Obama also sought to buffer himself from criticism that he is a supporter of big government.

Speaking to publishers and editors, Obama said: "I believe deeply that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history."

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