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Obama Rallies Support for Jobs Speech as GOP Contenders Woo Voters in S.C.

September 5, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
President Obama used a Labor Day event in Detroit to preview the jobs speech he'll give Thursday evening as Republican presidential contenders targeted the president, and each other, at a forum in South Carolina. Judy Woodruff and David Chalian assess what's at stake as the 2012 presidential campaign goes into full swing.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The 2012 presidential campaign got going in earnest this Labor Day.

President Obama talked up his jobs plan, and Republican contenders went after him and, increasingly, each other in response.

The president used a Labor Day event in Detroit to preview the jobs speech he will give Thursday night and to challenge Republicans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’re going to see if we have got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: We will give them a plan and then we will say, if you want to create jobs, then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: Do you want to help our companies succeed? Open up new markets for them to sell their products.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: You want — you say you are the party of tax cuts? Well, then prove you will fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you got.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: And with Mr. Obama trying to boost his re-election prospects, the labor union crowd greeted him with a kind of chant he hopes to hear more of.

CROWD: Four more years! Four more years! 

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the president is looking increasingly vulnerable on his stewardship of the economy, especially after last Friday’s disappointing report that showed no net job growth in August.

And the field of his would-be Republican challengers has ramped up the criticism. In New Hampshire, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney seized on the jobs data as he addressed his first Tea Party rally yesterday.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) presidential candidate: Look, a shutout is OK in baseball. It’s not good when you’re talking about jobs. We have zero confidence, zero faith in a president who created zero jobs. It’s time for someone who knows how to create jobs and get our economy going. And that’s something I know. That’s in my wheelhouse. And I will get America working again.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MAN: Rick Perry.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The new Republican front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, spoke this morning at a town hall in Conway, S.C., hosted by Congressman Tim Scott.

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas presidential candidate: If this president wants to have a jobs speech this week, let me tell you what he needs to do. He needs to stand up and say, we’re going to — we’re going to repeal Obamacare.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GOV. RICK PERRY: We’re going to — we’re going to — we’re going to repeal Dodd-Frank, and we’re going to stop the EPA from going forward with any of these regulations they have got.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Perry and Romney are also drawing a bead on each other ahead of Wednesday’s candidate debate in California. Perry is going after Romney’s record of job creation while governor of Massachusetts.

GOV. RICK PERRY: There is no one going to be sitting on that stage who has the record of job creation that I have. Now, there’s going to be some that are going to get up and say, well, I have created jobs. And that’s true. You know, there is one in particular that’s created jobs all over the world. But while he was the governor of Massachusetts, he didn’t create very many jobs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Romney in turn is trying to paint Perry, a three- term governor, as a career politician.

MITT ROMNEY: But I haven’t spent my whole life in politics. As a matter of fact, of the people running for office, you know, I — I don’t know that there are many who have less years in politics than me. I spent four years as a governor. I joke that I didn’t inhale.

(LAUGHTER)

MITT ROMNEY: I’m still a citizen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, is keeping her own prospects alive. She told a Tea Party gathering in Manchester, N.H., to stay open-minded on the GOP field.

SARAH PALIN, (R) former Ala. Gov.: So, I say let’s invite those candidates in who are bold enough to take on the tough challenges caused by an out-of-touch, out-of-control centralized government and those who are humble enough to admit they need you and they have seen the light, they who are willing to confront the challenges that are resulting from Washington’s failed policies and incompetent leadership, namely crony capitalism, because that is the root that grows our economic problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A handful of GOP hopefuls courted Tea Party supporters this afternoon at a South Carolina forum hosted by Sen. Jim DeMint, a favorite of the movement. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said she would make repeal of the president’s health care law a priority.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-Minn. presidential candidate: When the federal government can tell any American that they can buy — that they must as a condition of citizenship purchase a product or service, whether it’s against their will, effectively, the United States government will be dictating that price, and they will become a dictator over our lives.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Texas Congressman Ron Paul warned against the growing size and scope of government.

REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas presidential candidate: Freedom is not the issue anymore. It’s tyranny. It’s big government. We’re trying to struggle to hang on to this. But I think we’re in a desperate state of affairs, because it’s slipping by. And with the economy in shambles like we have today, I think we’re in much bigger trouble than a lot of people realize.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republicans now head into a heavy schedule of debates, while the president takes his jobs plan on the road starting Friday.

For more, we turn to NewsHour political editor David Chalian.

Hello, David.

DAVID CHALIAN: Hello, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Labor Day is the traditional kickoff of the presidential campaign. And they were going after President Obama, the Republicans were. But they were also starting to differentiate themselves from each other. We heard a little of that, but there was more of it.

DAVID CHALIAN: That’s key.

And you can tell that the Republican campaigns, the strategists advising these candidates, know that, as the calendar flips to September — and here we are on Labor Day — they’re just a few months away from those early voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina from really having to make a decision about who they want to put forward to take on the president in the fall.

And so it’s not just sufficient — though you will continue to hear them obviously criticize the president every day, it is not just sufficient for them to do that. And so that’s why you heard in the piece Gov. Perry taking on Gov. Romney’s jobs record in Massachusetts.

In addition to that, Michele Bachmann is not just criticizing President Obama about that individual mandate. Of course, that is one of Gov. Romney’s key weaknesses inside the Republican nomination fight. And so you see how they start developing these different appeals inside the Republican electorate to differentiate themselves.

Another example of that is, Gov. Romney’s been attacking Gov. Perry’s immigration record in Texas. So, I think you will continue to see this differentiation taking place because there’s a big conversation going on inside the Republican Party right now, which is who is best-equipped to beat the president next November, because they sense a real vulnerability on the president’s part.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one new thing we saw this weekend — and we mentioned that — was this was the first time that Mitt Romney has appeared before Tea Party groups. That was Friday and Saturday — or it was over the weekend.

What’s the significance of that?

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, first, let’s talk about the field overall appealing to that Tea Party group, to Tea Party groups in general.

This is Labor Day, the unofficial kickoff of the campaign in that way, when it intensifies. All these candidate knows they get extra television and media coverage on Labor Day. And they all chose to schedule — or most of them chose to schedule this, go down to South Carolina and Jim DeMint, and go to this Tea Party group, and answer questions that that wing of the party is really interested in hearing about.

Mitt Romney, as you point out, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is not his natural home. He hasn’t been really aligned with them. In fact, he had actually rejected an invitation to that event in South Carolina today until recently, because he sensed that Rick Perry is doing very well in this race right now with a lot of Tea Party support. And he sees that as a real threat.

He’s no longer the front-runner in this race, Judy. Rick Perry is. And so Mitt Romney quickly scheduled his first appearance last night with the Tea Party group in New Hampshire, scheduled this Jim DeMint event in South Carolina today.

But not all the Tea Partiers are happy. There was a protest in New Hampshire yesterday. Some Tea Party groups pulled out of the event once Mitt Romney was going to agree to speak because they don’t think he really represents their values. This is going to be Mitt Romney’s key challenge. How does he woo enough of those Tea Party Republicans in? Because they are critical. Look at the prominence they had on a day like today. They’re critical.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, quickly, David, we saw — we said this is the kickoff. And every day this week, there’s something happening. We have got a calendar we’re going to show our viewers.

Tell us what we’re looking at here.

DAVID CHALIAN: So, tomorrow, Mitt Romney is going to be out in Nevada, in the Las Vegas area, to deliver his big jobs speech. And he wants that to be a contrast to President Obama’s speech later in the week. He really wants to show what the alternative is.

And then, on Wednesday, the Republicans are going to be at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., for another debate. It will be their sort of — I think it’s their fourth debate of the cycle so far. But it will be the first one with Gov. Rick Perry. And he’s the front-runner in that race right now. So this will be a big moment for him to see if he can withstand that kind of scrutiny inside a national debate.

Thursday, of course, is the president’s speech to a joint session of Congress. We got hints of that today. And on Friday, as you mentioned in the piece, he’s going to selling it in the country, of course, in a key battleground state, Virginia. He will be in Richmond on Friday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so he’s — all eyes are going to be on the president by the end of the week. But he really does begin this campaign, David, back on his heels.

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, there’s no doubt. I mean, he is in a vulnerable position. And this is largely due to the economy. That is hanging around his neck as a big weight.

I thought what was really interesting, what we heard from him today — and, by the way, no mistake that he was in Michigan and Joe Biden was in Ohio today. Those are key states.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID CHALIAN: But I thought we heard a president itching for a fight. He wants to present jobs plans on Thursday, but not as badly as he wants to take those plans out into the country and really start drawing a contrast with Republicans.

He sounded to me like he was willing to have a fight which his partisans have been asking for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re all going to be watching it.

David Chalian, our political editor, thank you.

DAVID CHALIAN: Thank you.