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Obama’s pitch: Slow but steady gains for middle class

CONCORD, N.H. — With the economy stuck in low gear and deficits soaring, President Obama's closing argument to voters for his re-election Tuesday is that he is moving the nation on the fairest path for the middle class, however slowly.

As Mr. Obama embarked Sunday on his final two-day blitz of battleground states, with former President Bill Clinton at his side, he sought to persuade voters that his economic policies require more time to produce the kinds of results that Mr. Clinton's programs did in the 1990s. The president warned voters who are frustrated by the lack of progress that Republican rival Mitt Romney would be a change for the worse.

"When you ask yourself the question, 'Who is going to fight for me and bring about real change,' you know that I know what real change looks like, because I fought for it alongside you," Mr. Obama told supporters in New Hampshire. "I've got the scars to prove it. I've got the gray hair to show for it. After all we've been through together, we can't give up now."

In the final days of the campaign, the president increasingly is running on the economic record of Mr. Clinton. He and his advisers acknowledge that the economy was stronger during the 42nd president's tenure than it has been under Mr. Obama's leadership. Senior Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said, "We believe in the theory that Bill Clinton had" — that raising taxes on the wealthy, and on many others, in 1993 helped balance budgets, lower deficits and encourage economic growth.

Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Mr. Obama is pointing to the example of Mr. Clinton because middle-class Americans "aren't better off" under Mr. Obama's leadership.

With the unemployment rate at 7.9 percent, one-tenth of a percent higher than when Mr. Obama took office, Mr. Romney is asking voters if they want "more of the same" in a second Obama term. The president and his surrogates, therefore, are working overtime to persuade voters that Mr. Obama rescued America from what could have been a second Great Depression and that his programs are building a solid foundation for prosperity.

That is where Mr. Clinton has played a role in the waning days of the race, as the Democrats' chief economic salesman. He is so at ease talking about economic concepts in simple terms that Mr. Obama often jokes that he should appoint the former president as "secretary of explainin' stuff."

At the rally in Concord, N.H., on Sunday, a hoarse Mr. Clinton tried once again to come to Mr. Obama's rescue on the economy. Noting Mr. Romney's argument that the recovery has been too weak, Mr. Clinton said, "The whole election may come down to this.

"I have spent years studying the economy, and I hope I have some credibility with you on what creates jobs, raises incomes and reduces poverty," Mr. Clinton told supporters. "I hope I have some credibility with you on balanced budgets. I am telling you, no one who ever served as president of the United States, and no one living within the borders of the United States of America, could have fixed all the damage that was done from the financial crisis in just four years. It's not possible. It could not have been done."

The argument sums up the view of Mr. Obama's supporters.

"I didn't expect that he got everything that he needed to get done," said Judy Fairclough, 56. "I don't think that's realistic to think that that would have happened — he needs another four years to continue on this path because I do think it's a path that's made progress so far."

Gail Harless, 58, visiting from Minnesota, said she is supporting Mr. Obama because "I think he has the answers to keep our country moving in the right direction."

As he wraps up his pitch to voters at every stop of his final campaign, the president portrays his candidacy as the focal point of the struggle between the "haves" and "have-nots" in America.

"The folks at the very top of this country, they don't need a champion in Washington," Mr. Obama said. "They'll always have a seat at the table. They'll always have access and influence. That's the way things work. We understand that."

He says the people "who really need a champion" are the Americans whose letters he reads late at night in the Oval Office.

"The laid-off paper-mill worker who's retraining at the age of 55 for a new career in a new industry — she needs a champion," Mr. Obama said. "The restaurant owner who's got great food but needs a loan to expand, and the bank has turned him down — he needs a champion. The cooks and the waiters and the cleaning staff working overtime at a Vegas hotel, trying to save enough to buy a first home or send their kid to college — they need a champion. The autoworker who got laid off, thought the plant was going to close and then got called back, and now is filled with pride and dignity, building a great car — he needs a champion."

Mr. Obama said they are the kinds of people who don't have lobbyists.

"And that's why I need you — to make sure their voices are heard," the president tells voters. "To make sure your voices are heard. We have come too far to turn back now."

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