Obama makes populist economic pitch, slams Congress in Denver speech

DENVER — After a night hanging out in LoDo, President Obama took to a stage in Cheesman Park Wednesday morning and looked to recapture the populist message that worked so well for him in 2008 and 2012.

Introduced by Alex Dooley, a young woman who wrote to the White House about how her boss gave her a raise following Obama’s State of the Union call for a minimum wage hike and one of five such letter writers to dine with the president Tuesday night at the Wazee Supper Club, Obama took the stage in a shirt and tie with the sleeves rolled up.

After a few humorous asides about his night out in Denver — “Don’t ask Gov. Hickenlooper who won at pool,” Obama joked — the president recapped the stories he heard from Alex and his four other dinner guests.

“When I look at Alex, I see myself in them,” Obama said. “I think about what it was like for me to finance college, I think about what it was like to pay childcare costs. Your stories are ours.”

With his own approval rating stuck in the 40s and the headlines dominated by multiple crises, from the Mexican border to the Middle East, Obama attempted to remind voters of the progress his administration has made and economic turnaround it’s led — reprising his populist 2012 pitch for 2014 to boost embattled Democrats like Colorado Sen. Mark Udall in the November midterm elections.

“As screwed up as Washington is, I want people to understand there’s still progress to be made,” Obama said. “Today our businesses have added nearly 10 million new jobs.”

Obama pointed to action his administration has taken to cut deficits, reform the country’s tax code and to extend health care to millions of previously uninsured Americans; and he noted that more jobs have been created in the first six months of 2014 than in any year since 1999.

“We have come farther and recovered faster than almost any advanced nation on Earth,” Obama said. “We know we’ve still got a long way to go.

“More jobs have been created in the first half of this year since 1999, but many families barely earn what they earned in the nineties. Too much improvement goes to the folks at the top, and not enough of it is making a difference in the lives of regular Americans.”

As he has since his State of the Union address in January, Obama positioned himself as a president of action who’s done waiting for a do-nothing Congress.

“These days, basic common sense ideas cannot get through Congress,” he said. “They’ve said no to raising the minimum wage. They’ve said no to equal pay so women can get paid the same as men. They’ve said no to unemployment insurance for working Americans. Congress just said no to fixing our broken immigration system.

“If Congress won’t act, I will.”

Republicans dismissed Obama’s speech as “more of the same.”

“Try as he may, Coloradans aren’t buying President Obama’s tired talking points,” said Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call. “The fact is that most Coloradans do not feel that they are doing better after six years of President Obama and Sen. Udall in office. Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans have lost their health care plans and family doctors, household income remains low and hardworking families are struggling just to get by.”

A few hundred Democratic supporters attended the address in Cheesman Park, just east of the Greek columned pavilion up against the west gate of the Denver Botanic Garden.

Following the speech, Obama headed to the Westin hotel downtown for a fundraiser to benefit the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Udall’s campaign.

Udall, who has been criticized for avoiding Obama since announcing he’d be unable to attend the speech, decided early Wednesday morning not to fly back for the fundraiser because the Senate had to vote to confirm the president’s nominee to be secretary of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, San Antonio, Tex. Mayor Julian Castro.

“The only difference between President Obama’s campaign speech today and every other one he has given was that Sen. Udall wasn’t standing by his side,” said Alex Siciliano, the spokesman for Congressman Cory Gardner, Udall’s Republican challenger.

“Sen. Udall has been more than willing to follow the President on everything from healthcare and gun control to energy and out-of-control government spending. Make no mistake about it, a vote for Senator Udall is a vote to reinforce President Obama’s old and tired policies.”

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, Jack Finlaw, Hickenlooper’s general counsel, and Colorado House Majority Leader Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, were among the few hundred people who attended the Cheesman Park speech.

Following the fundraiser, Obama will depart Denver early Wednesday afternoon and fly to Dallas, where he will meet Gov. Rick Perry ahead of another Democratic fundraiser to discuss the pressing humanitarian crisis on the state’s border with Mexico where immigrants from Central America are streaming across.

Perry has criticized Obama for failing to deal with the crisis, even suggesting that his administration might be “in on it” — tacitly encouraging the illegal border crossings — and urged the president to tour the border with him, something the White House has refused to do, not wanting to give Perry his desired photo op.

Earlier Tuesday, Democratic Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar, whose district sits along the U.S.-Mexico border, criticized Obama for not going to the border, taking issue with the president’s Tuesday night bar-hopping in Denver.

“If he had time, with all due respect, to have a beer and play pool like he did in Colorado last night, then I think after the fundraisers he should make time to go down there,” Cuellar said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.