- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On the final day of a whirlwind fundraising jaunt for Democrats across the country, President Obama on Wednesday took a break in Columbus, Ohio, to sit down with a local family and their neighbors for a chat about the economy — and an impromptu town-hall meeting in their back yard.

Mr. Obama said the meeting, at the home of Joe and Rhonda Weithman, was a way for him to “stay in touch” with real people as they struggle amid a slumping economy. He noted that his two hosts were helped by Democrats’ policies, with Mrs. Weithman using the government’s extension of federal COBRA benefits to hang onto her health insurance after she was laid off, and her husband’s architectural firm benefiting from infrastructure projects funded by Mr. Obama’s $862 billion economic stimulus plan.

The unusual event came as a new poll showed confidence in Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy at an all-time low. Only 41 percent of Americans approve of his performance, with 56 disapproving, according to an Associated Press-GfK survey out Wednesday.

With a treehouse in the background, Mr. Obama took questions from neighbors gathered in the Weithmans’ back yard, where, holding a microphone, he spoke on health care, Social Security and other topics.

Mr. Obama assured his informal audience that things are on track to get better, but he warned the recovery won’t be immediate, comparing it with “recovering from an illness.”

“It’s going to take some time for this economy to come back,” he stressed.

The White House is aware that public doubts about Mr. Obama’s economic program have been rising. The president has been doing all he can to promote his economic record his summer, traveling across the country to blue-collar towns and hard-hit areas to argue that, despite continued high unemployment, things would be much worse if it weren’t for policies such as the stimulus package and the administration’s $60 billion aid package to the U.S. auto industry.

Not surprisingly, Republicans dispute that, seeing the sagging economy as a prime reason for their political surge ahead of November’s midterm elections. Ohio will see two hotly contested elections this fall, as Democrats try to hold on to the governorship and win the seat of retiring GOP Sen. George V. Voinovich.

Former George W. Bush administration budget director Rob Portman leads Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in recent polls for the Voinovich seat, and Republicans are trying to tie Mr. Fisher to Mr. Obama and his policies on the economy and health care.

“Contrary to President Obama’s tone-deaf claims that we are ‘moving in the right direction,’ Ohio has lost 400,000 jobs under failed jobs czar Lee Fisher’s watch, and voters strongly oppose the health care bill that Fisher endorsed, which cuts seniors’ Medicare by $500 billion, endangers jobs, will reduce benefits and raise costs for Ohio seniors, and could strip more than 1 million Americans of their health coverage,” said Amber Marchand, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Mr. Obama returns Wednesday night to the White House after a money-raising blitz that will took him to five states in three days to campaign for Democratic candidates for governor, the Senate and the House. Before Ohio, he visited Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Seattle, with a stop in Miami scheduled for later Wednesday.


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