LAWRENCE, Kan. — President Barack Obama likes to say there are no red states or blue states, just the United States of America. Yet his first two stops on the traditional sell-the-speech tour after giving the annual State of the Union address were in … Republican “red” states. The White House says the president’s travel itinerary was not a coincidence.
Idaho, the first stop, also happened to be a state Obama had not visited as president before this week.
“Idaho is a good example of a state where they have made an effort to invest in those kinds of programs that ensures that middle-class families have access to skills and training that are critically important to getting a middle-class job,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama, explaining that Obama wanted to visit to show that Republican support exists for the kinds of programs the president is pushing nationally.
Obama has emphasized skills training throughout his presidency, even putting Vice President Joe Biden in charge of reviewing federal job training programs.
Earnest noted that in Idaho and in Kansas, Obama’s stop on Thursday, Republicans hold the governor’s office, control the Legislature and make up 100 percent of each state’s congressional delegation and are moving ahead with policies that dovetail with Obama’s priorities.
Back in Washington, though, congressional Republicans gave a reception as chilly as a mid-January day in Idaho to Obama’s call for billions of dollars in new spending to make community college free for most students, provide paid sick leave to workers who don’t get that time off and expand tax credits for child care.
Obama wants to pay for it by raising taxes on the wealthiest individuals, a virtual nonstarter in a Congress now under complete Republican control.
“It’s not a coincidence that the president traveled to two red states,” Earnest said Wednesday on the way to Boise, Idaho. Even though Republicans are setting the policies in Idaho and Kansas, “there are areas where their policy priorities are not entirely inconsistent with some of the policy priorities that the president has identified.”
At the University of Kansas on Thursday, Obama planned to stress more of the middle-class economic themes he laid out in Tuesday night’s speech.
Idaho is the 47th state Obama has visited as president, though he headlined a rally there during his first presidential run in 2008.
Earnest said Obama would like to visit South Dakota, Utah and South Carolina — all “red states” — to complete a 50-state run before his term ends in January 2017.
Idaho and Kansas both overwhelmingly supported the Republican candidate over Obama in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
Despite the losses — Obama described them Wednesday as having gotten “whupped twice” — and Idaho’s conservative political bent, more than 6,000 people who filled the Boise State University sports complex cheered when Obama talked about helping students afford college, repairing highways and bridges, and spending on research and development.
People also lined the sidewalks of Boise to welcome Obama as his motorcade made the approximately 15-minute drive from the airport.
In remarks reprising his State of the Union message, Obama said disagreement is the nature of democracy but “we don’t have to be divided as a people.”
“Whoever we are — whether we are Republican, or Democrat, or independent, or young or old, or black, white, gay, straight — we all share a common vision for our future,” he said to applause. “We want a better country for your generation, and for your kids’ generation. And I want this country to be one that shows the world what we still know to be true, that we are not just a collection of red states and blue states. We are still the United States of America.”