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(Updates with Florida primary date in last four paragraphs. For more campaign news, go to ELECT.)
Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama, seeking to rally support for his jobs plan in two states pivotal in next year’s election, suggested that the nation needs to regain a competitive edge in technology and education.
“This is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades,” Obama said in an interview yesterday with WESH television in Orlando, Florida. “We need to get back on track.”
At the same time, Obama said he “would not trade our position with anybody on Earth. We still have the best universities, the best scientists and the best workers in the world.”
The president aimed his remarks at an audience in a swing- voting region of one of the biggest states that was key to his election in 2008. He also conducted an interview with WXII television in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, another state that he carried in 2008 and that will host the party’s 2012 presidential nominating convention.
Obama is campaigning for congressional support for a $447 billion jobs program centered on rebuilding infrastructure and offering payroll tax breaks for workers and employers.
Triggering Job Growth
“There are a set of policies that historically have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans that are in this jobs bill,” the president said in the interview with WXII-TV. “It’s time for Congress to act, and I’m just going to keep on pushing over the next several weeks to make sure that they try to do something to help people right now.”
North Carolina “represents what the country’s going through -- lost manufacturing in the furniture industry, textiles, tobacco,” Obama said. Congress’s passage of his jobs plan, which he announced Sept. 8, is “the most important thing we can do right now” to trigger job growth, he said.
He said the plan would put construction workers and teachers back to work in Florida and North Carolina, and would give tax breaks to small businesses and the middle class.
The president said he plans to campaign heavily in Florida and North Carolina. A third television interview taped yesterday will air at an undetermined time on WTVF-TV in Nashville, Tennessee.
The president did the local television interviews two days after he returned from a three-day trip to the West Coast, which included stops in California, Washington state and Colorado. The trip was intended to raise money for his re-election and press Congress to enact his package of tax cuts and spending aimed at spurring hiring to trim the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.
Of his nine appearances during the West Coast swing, seven of them were at fundraisers.
During the interview with WESH-TV in Orlando, Obama said “we’re not where we need to be” with job creation. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”
He cited his proposal to help reduce barriers for people who are refinancing their homes as a way to boost the economy.
“There are too many barriers that are in place for those folks who have mortgages that are in some ways guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or the FHA,” he said. If those barriers were removed, Obama said, as much as 15 or 20 percent of the housing stock in the U.S. could be refinanced and put an additional $2,000 in people’s pockets.
Obama said Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican elected in 2010, made a “mistake” when he turned down federal funds for a high-speed rail project in the state.
“It had business support; it had support from Republican legislators down there; it was the right thing to do,” Obama said. “Florida stood to make big gains and to create a lot of jobs down there. It was a mistake to turn that money down because there were a lot of other states that were very anxious to pick it up.”
In February, Scott rejected $2.4 billion of U.S. funds to build a high-speed rail line. He had said the 84-mile rapid passenger train between Orlando and Tampa could have burdened taxpayers with $3 billion in extra expenses.
Obama said he is likely to visit Florida in January or February because of its perennial sunshine.
A Florida commission voted today to move up the state’s presidential primary to Jan. 31, 2012, a move likely to accelerate the nominating process for selecting Obama’s Republican opponent.
The commission is seeking to “put Florida in a prominent position on the primary calendar and in the election overall,” Chris Cate, a spokesman for Florida’s secretary of state, said in an interview after the panel’s 7-2 vote.
Florida’s move is likely to shift the start of voting in the Republican race a month earlier than national party leaders had intended, condensing a number of important contests into January and creating a holiday-season campaign crunch that officials and candidates had hoped to avoid.
Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are expected to move up the dates of their nominating contests to early or mid-January to maintain their status as the first four states voting in the race. The Iowa caucuses, which traditionally start the process, had been tentatively set for Feb. 6.
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--With assistance from Jerry Hart in Miami and Roger Runningen and Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington. Editors: Robin Meszoly, Don Frederick
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