Obama focuses on jobs while GOP ponders health care 

Buoyed by rising poll numbers and a boost in the nation's financial outlook, President Obama is refocusing on the economy as he prepares to formally announce his re-election bid.

Saying Obama is likely to file papers soon for 2012, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs -- departing the administration to consult for the campaign -- said Obama hopes to build on recent improvements.

"We've made some progress on getting our economy back in order, and I think the president wants to continue to do that," Gibbs said Thursday.

Obama on Friday travels to Schenectady, N.Y., for a day trip that was delayed by the recent mass shooting in Tucson. There, he will use General Electric's energy division headquarters as the backdrop to underscore recent growth.

The index of leading economic indicators performed better than expected in December, fueling hopes for a stronger recovery, the New York-based Conference Board earlier this week. Combined with a recent slight decrease in unemployment, many Americans are now sounding more upbeat about the economy -- a key concern for the president's re-election prospects.

A new Marist College poll this week found 54 percent of adults believe the worst of the economy is over, while 39 percent say the worst has yet to come. Last month, 39 percent said the worst was over compared with 53 percent who expected more bad news.

But for Obama, changing attitudes about the economy won't be enough. He will have to show results, particularly on job creation, said George Edwards III, a Texas A&M University political scientist.

"That is the one thing people really understand," Edwards said. "Sudan, Tunisia, who knows? But jobs, employment numbers, paychecks -- people know that and they understand it pretty well."

Obama put significant economic bets on the table with an $814 billion stimulus plan he promised would create jobs, followed by a massive tax cut deal brokered with congressional Republicans that he said also would create jobs.

But Obama spent the first year of his administration pushing health care reform as the top priority, sporadically focusing on the economy while unemployment rose higher than his administration had projected.

Now, House Republicans, who criticized him for neglecting jobs, are at work trying to repeal health care reform, while Obama pivots back to jobs at a time when, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, 56 percent of Americans are still unclear about the effect of the health care law and more than 40 percent believe jobs should be the top priority for Congress.

Obama, meanwhile, is getting a slight political breather from a lift in his job-approval ratings, which have pushed him over 50 percent in several polls.

"I think a lot of that is in response to his unifying the nation [after the shootings], but I also think people are starting to feel a little better about the economy," said Cindy Rugeley, a political scientist at Texas Tech University.

"I think every time he focuses on the economy, it's the right thing to do," Rugeley said. "I was totally befuddled about why he wasn't doing it sooner."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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