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.”

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.

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.

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