- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - President Barack Obama touted Rhode Island’s family leave policy in a speech on the economy and women Friday before giving Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo some last-minute support.

In a visit to Rhode Island College, Obama said women deserve a day off to care for a sick child or parent. Rhode Island, California and New Jersey are the only states to have expanded their state disability insurance programs to cover family leave.

Obama said Rhode Island “has got the right idea” and the nation needs to broaden its laws for family leave. It’s “good policy” that will benefit businesses and the economy, he said.

“While many women are working hard to support themselves and their families, they’re still facing unfair choices, outdated workplace policies,” Obama said. “That holds them back, but it also holds all of us back.”

The president visited the college in Providence to talk about the economy and the importance of pursuing policies that help women succeed, including equal pay for women and a higher minimum wage. Around 2,500 tickets for the speech were given out.

Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who is not running for a second term, and other elected officials said they’re proud to see Rhode Island’s efforts to support working families recognized.

Obama also participated in a roundtable discussion with working parents, small business owners, students and faculty. Lisbeth Paola Avalos Valiente, 23, a biological chemistry student, said it would be “amazing” if women were paid the same as men and she didn’t start her career at a disadvantage.

“This is beyond just a partisan issue,” she said. “It’s something all of us should take part in, whether it’s big business, small business, Democrat, Republican.”

Diana Esposito, 35, a working mother from Beverly, Massachusetts, said she told the president she and her husband work really hard and have good jobs, but it’s still a struggle. Esposito, who works for a consulting firm, said she hopes Obama can draw attention to the need for better child-care policies and flexible work schedules.

Obama’s trip comes in the final days before the Nov. 4 election. He has endorsed Raimondo for governor and Democrat Jorge Elorza for Providence mayor. He met briefly with both candidates before the speech and dined afterward at Gregg’s Restaurant on the Providence-Pawtucket border with Raimondo, the current state treasurer, in an unannounced campaign stop.

Mark Smiley, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the president is “still pretty popular” in Rhode Island but he doesn’t think the visit will convince voters to support Raimondo over Republican Allan Fung.

“Most of the people in Rhode Island are very happy that he came,” he said. “But to draw the conclusion that she’s a better candidate because Barack Obama was here is quite a stretch, in anyone’s mind.”

At the restaurant, Obama ordered a cheeseburger and Raimondo ordered a turkey club. In the spirit of Halloween, he also bought a “death by chocolate” layer cake for the trip home on Air Force One because he said he had heard the cake is deadly and devilish. Obama paid the full bill and left a $20 tip.

Obama reminded everyone to vote and said Raimondo would make a great governor. He posed for pictures with customers dressed as the Flintstones.

Owner Robert Bacon said the restaurant had about a half-hour’s notice the president was coming in.

Raimondo is in a tight race with Fung.

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