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Obama stakes presidency on stimulus
FORT MYERS, Fla. | President Obama on Tuesday for the first time staked his fledgling presidency on pulling the country from its economic crisis, promising dispirited Floridians that his stimulus plan will produce tangible results such as jobs and tuition credits or he’ll be ousted from office in 2012.
Mr. Obama — who earned a small victory when the Senate passed his $838 billion plan but then was hit with a big drop in the stock market — was on the campaign trail again, using a town-hall meeting and one of the best weapons in his arsenal: himself.
Mr. Obama engagingly pushed his plan, joking that he would pull from the best ideas “whether it comes from a Democrat or a Republican or a vegetarian,” acted as comforter in chief and, when asked about the country’s notorious impatience, he strayed from his standard answer that the crisis won’t be solved overnight.
“I expect to be judged by results and … I’m not going to make any excuses,” he said. “If stuff hasn’t worked and people don’t feel like I’ve led the country in the right direction, then — you’ll have a new president.”
But even after he cautioned people that they can vote him out of office, his nearly 2,000 fans at the town hall were already asking for four more years.
“Our economy will likely be measured in years, not weeks or months,” Mr. Obama said, and someone interrupted him with: “You have eight.”
The crowd at the Harborside Event Center erupted in laughter and cheers, and the president chuckled, “For our TV audience, somebody said I had eight — which we’re not clear about yet.”
• See related story:Struggle begins on stimulus bills
Obama fever had swept this Gulf Coast town, which is struggling with the nation’s highest foreclosure rate. Unemployed Air Force veteran Kevin Gingras said he waited 10 hours in line to score one of the 2,000 tickets.
Mr. Gingras, of Cape Coral, said the stimulus would directly benefit him and put him back to work doing local construction. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but has no health insurance for himself or his 6-year-old daughter, Camryn.
“It’s disappointing he had to come here,” he said, adding that he was glad to get a boost of hope from the president. “We need help, not only in Florida but in the entire country.”
People at the event said the president lifted their spirits. At one point, Mr. Obama kissed a crying woman on the cheek.
Henrietta Hughes told the president she had an “urgent need” and was homeless and living in her car. “Please help,” she said.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help you; there are a lot of people like you,” Mr. Obama said, sounding choked up before giving her the kiss.
Later, Obama staff connected her with the executive director of a local housing group who was in the crowd at the event and said he could help her.
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By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
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