President Obama's first visit to Palm Beach County since he was a 2008
candidate found him in full campaign mode Tuesday, telling $10,000-a-plate
donors and enthusiastic Florida Atlantic University students that his policies
stand in stark contrast to the "old broken-down theories" of Republicans.
Obama raised at least $600,000 for his reelection campaign at a lunch in a private home in Palm Beach Gardens, then spoke to about 4,500 people in FAU's gym in what was billed as an official White House address on the economy. After the FAU speech, Obama left Palm Beach County for fundraisers in Hollywood and Golden Beach, where he raised nearly $1.5 million more.
At both Palm Beach County events, Obama made the case for what he called a "smart government" that respects the free market while "investing" in education, clean energy and social safety net programs.
Republicans, he said, want to "dismantle" government and provide tax cuts to the wealthy. Obama framed the 2012 election as an ideological rematch of the 1964 presidential race between Lyndon Johnson, who championed the Great Society social programs, and conservative Republican Barry Goldwater.
Obama portrayed himself as a proponent of benign big government -- and he said Mitt Romney would pursue "failed" economic policies of low taxes for the rich.
Republicans countered that it's Obama's policies of too much regulation and too much government spending that have failed to stimulate the economy after the Great Recession.
Obama arrived at Palm Beach International Airport shortly before noon, then headed to the fundraiser at the home of Hansel and Paula Tookes in Palm Beach Gardens, where the crowd included U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
"There are contrasting visions here," Obama said. "This election will probably have the biggest contrast that we've seen maybe since the Johnson-Goldwater election -- maybe before that.
"Because my vision, Bill Nelson's vision, the Democratic vision, is one that says free markets are the key to economic growth, that we don't need more government just for the sake of expanding its reach. But there are certain things we have to do -- whether it's investments in education, or basic science and research, or caring for the most vulnerable among us and creating an effective safety net -- that we have to do, because we can't do it on our own."
Obama can hope that the 2012 election turns out like the 1964 race, which LBJ won in a landslide.
Unlike in 1964, when the unemployment rate was 5.2 percent, Obama faces a challenge from the still-struggling economy. The U.S. unemployment rate has been above 8 percent since early 2009, and job growth slowed last month.
Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the incoming speaker of the Florida House, blamed Obama's policies for a weak job market and high gas prices. He said Obama's claims to have guided the economy through its fragile recovery ring hollow.
"To use a football analogy, that's like spiking the ball after a one-yard gain," Weatherford told reporters in a conference call before Obama's FAU speech.
Another critic, state Sen. John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, faulted Obama for failing to save thousands of Space Coast jobs that disappeared when the space shuttle was grounded.
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