November 30th, 2011
09:34 AM ET
Scranton, Pennsylvania (CNN) – Planning to push for an extension of the payroll tax holiday at a high school in Scranton,Pennsylvania on Wednesday, President Obama is taking his jobs message to a familiar setting.
Pennslyvania is among the states Obama has visited most as president. It's no surprise: Pennsylvania's penchant for close elections makes its 20 electoral votes a tempting prize for both parties. But a win here in November may be particularly important to the president, who could use a bit of breathing room as he faces tough odds to hold some of the Republican-leaning states he won in 2008.
Officially, the White House maintains this is not a campaign trip, but the 2012 overtones will be impossible to ignore when Air Force One touches down in this city that once thrived on the back of the coal-mining industry but now faces an unemployment rate bordering on nine percent – the highest among the state's most populous cities.
Obama has a bit of a complicated history here, having gotten his clocked cleaned by Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary before walloping Sen. John McCain eight months later. Now, the state appears solidly up for grabs: a recent Quinnipiac poll showed him with a razor-thin lead over Mitt Romney, currently the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination.
Still, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday presidential travel decisions are based on a variety of factors, not least of which is their proximity to Washington.
Republican critics maintain Obama has long been campaigning on the taxpayer's dime because he does not have to tap his 2012 coffers for the hefty travel costs unless the trip's purpose is specifically campaign related. To be sure, Obama has yet to mention a Republican rival during his series of jobs-bill pitches this fall, nor has he pressed directly for his own reelection.
Indeed, the explicit message of Obama's speech Wednesday is the benefits of extending the payroll tax holiday, the $260 billion price tag of which Republicans and Democrats are currently quarreling over how to pay for. Meanwhile, a Treasury Department analysis released by the White House Wednesday argues the extension will put an extra $1,000 in the average taxpayer's pocket.
But the line between acting in his official capacity as President of the United States and campaigning for reelection is a blurry one, and it's certainly easy to argue that railing against congressional Republicans in a swing state comes right up to it.
Still, if the argument sounds recycled, that's because it is. In 2004, Democrats made the same accusations, calling for President Bush to pick up the tab for any travel that carried political overtones. And in these times, nearly everything a president says is political.
"It also true that we are moving forward in what will be a Presidential election year.so that process is also underway," Carney conceded Tuesday. "But it is a separate process. And at this point, because the President faces no primary challenger, and the President has enormous responsibilities as President to fulfill - principally to do everything he can, both legislatively and using his executive authority to grow the economy and create jobs - he is overwhelmingly focused on that task and not on campaigning."