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Crackdown on ‘insider’ profits may be lone plus for campaign-mode Obama

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Senate Democrats are hoping to give the country a peek at bipartisanship Monday with a test vote on prohibiting members of Congress from using insider knowledge to enrich themselves: a proposed crackdown that was one of the few lines from President Obama's State of the Union address to earn support from both sides of the aisle.

Mr. Obama's call to action on that legislation drew applause Tuesday night from Republicans and Democrats. It stands out amid a host of issues that both parties say they want to tackle this year, but have shown little willingness for compromise.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Sunday that they expect to pass a payroll-tax cut extension for the rest of the year by the end of February.

The extension is a major priority of the president's, but GOP leaders said they remain at odds with Democrats and the president in figuring out how to pay for it.

Although Mr. Obama began his annual address by calling for Washington to use the military's dependence on selfless teamwork as the best example for public service, he quickly pivoted to a call for increased taxes on the wealthy to pay America's bills and finance new investments. He urged Congress to act, but warned that he was prepared to go it alone if they failed.

Nearly a week after the speech, reviews of his performance and subsequent three-day swing through five election-battleground states have been mixed. Analysts agree that the combative tone and go-it-alone threat signaled a re-election campaign shifting into high gear.

The sharp political differences were on display Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," as David Axelrod, a senior strategist for Mr. Obama's campaign, portrayed Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney as representing Wall Street and the wealthy and Mr. Obama as a champion of the middle class and the poor.

Touting a key piece of the State of the Union address that Mr. Obama delivered last week — a plan to raise taxes on the rich to a minimum level of 30 percent — Mr. Axelrod attacked Mr. Romney for his status as a wealthy former venture capitalist. At one point, he blasted the former Massachusetts governor for having a "Swiss bank account," "putting money in the Cayman Islands" and setting up a business in Bermuda.

"His view is that somehow our economy profits because he has these special benefits that other people of more modest means don't have," Mr. Axelrod said. "And we just disagree."

Mr. Romney, he said, "has a great track record of creating wealth for himself and his partners" at Bain Capital. "He's done it by closing 1,000 plants and stores and offices around the country. He's done it by outsourcing jobs — by loading companies down with debt and then putting them into bankruptcy — on which he and his partners made hundreds of millions of dollars."

Mr. Axelrod pointedly left out any mention of Bain Capital's success in helping companies such as Staples create tens of thousands of jobs.

The president's campaign team hopes to build on poll numbers that improved slightly this month, including a 2-percentage-point uptick since the State of the Union speech. According to Gallup polling Wednesday through Friday, 46 percent of Americans approve of the president's job performance and 47 percent, disapprove.

With the economy showing some positive signs, the approval rating in January has hovered around 45 percent, up from a rough average of 43 percent last fall.

Polls show that the differences between Republican and Democratic perceptions of the president are at historic highs with an average of 80 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans approving of the job he is doing, according to a Gallup analysis.

With tensions running high in Washington, Mr. Obama said he was happy after the speech to spend most of the week on the road talking to supporters in Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan.

On Wednesday, he jogged up to the stage at a UPS plant in Nevada, soaking in the warm weather and appearing to revel on the campaign stump.

He got into a testy confrontation on an airport tarmac with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican and longtime foe on the immigration issue, about the way she had depicted him in her book. Afterward, he denied in an interview with ABC News that he was "tense" during his encounter with Mrs. Brewer and said the incident was blown out of proportion.

Despite the renewed spring in his step, some of the State of the Union highlights he promoted ruffled would-be supporters. Several college presidents and professors were skeptical of his plan to force colleges and universities to contain tuition rates or face losing federal dollars. The president of the University of Washington called it "political theater of the worst sort."

On Thursday, House Republicans blasted the president for announcing the opening of nearly 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to drilling, arguing that the same lease sale was in the works when Mr. Obama took office.

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