DURHAM, N.C. -- President Barack Obama promoted job creation yesterday in politically important North Carolina, trying to assure Americans he's focused on their No. 1 concern -- and his greatest political weakness -- as his potential GOP presidential opponents prepared to target his economic policies in their first major debate.
Speaking at an energy-efficient-lighting plant in Durham, Obama called for training more engineers as a means to boost long-term economic growth, as he sought simultaneously to reassure businesses about his administration's policies and try to instill some optimism in voters despite dismal recent economic reports.
His remarks also served as a counterpoint to gathering political opposition represented by seven Republican 2012 potential presidential hopefuls who were meeting in New Hampshire last night for a debate where they were likely to agree to disagree with Obama on his approach on the economy.
"Today, the single most serious economic problem we face is getting people back to work," the president said. "We stabilized the economy, we prevented a financial meltdown and an economy that was shrinking is now growing. . . . But, I'm still not satisfied. I will not be satisfied until everyone who wants a good job that offers some security has a good job that offers security."
Obama announced a program to train 10,000 new American engineers every year through a public-private partnership. "We know that if we're going to maintain our leadership in technology and innovation, our best companies need the world's brightest workers -- American workers," Obama said.
Obama is looking for ways to brighten a bleak employment picture, pushing private-sector hiring along with his own political fortunes during a two-day trip to two key states -- North Carolina and Florida -- and a rendezvous with an important Hispanic constituency on the island of Puerto Rico.
The trip gives him a chance to offer a counterbalance to what is sure to be a sustained attack on his economic and other policies during the nationally televised GOP debate. From Durham he was heading to Miami to speak at three Democratic National Committee fundraisers, before traveling today to Puerto Rico.
But even before the debate got under way, Republicans were dismissing Obama's efforts. "Photo-ops with business leaders only reinforce that no one in this administration has ideas to create the private sector jobs our economy desperately needs," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).