MANCHESTER, N.H. — President Barack Obama is finding his inner Ronald Reagan.
With less than three weeks to Election Day, the president is now celebrating an economic recovery he had been — for most of his campaign — been wary of embracing too tightly.
“We were losing 800,000 jobs a month,” Obama began Wednesday evening in Athens, Ohio, building to a new, triumphant tone as he leaned into the microphone. “Now we’ve added more than 5 million new jobs, more manufacturing jobs than any time since the 1990s. The unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent to 7.8 percent. Foreclosures are at their lowest in five years. Home values are on the rise. Stock market has doubled. Manufacturing is coming back. Assembly lines are putting folks back to work. That's what we’ve been fighting for. Those are the promises I’ve kept.”
Obama delivered the same message to a crowd of 6,000 Thursday afternoon (adding the qualifier “nearly” before the doubling stock market) in Manchester, New Hampshire — both states with unemployment rates lower than the national average.
Obama turns up the heat on for these lines: He’s higher pitched and louder. Then, as the audience roars, he backs away, lowers his voice, and acknowledges that not all is well — that more must be done.
“Now, for all the progress we’ve made, we’ve got more work to do,” Obama said, “There are too many folks out there still looking for work. There are too many folks out there who are still having trouble paying the bills. And that's why we’ve got to keep moving forward to build on what we’ve already done.”
For months, the Obama campaign had been cautious against appearing too pleased with bettering economic conditions while millions remained out of work or underemployed — a lesson the president learned the hard way after the premature “recovery summer” in 2010. The fear: appearing out as out of touch as the last incumbent to be unseated, George H. W. Bush, or as John McCain in 2008 when he said that the fundamentals of the American economy were strong at the height of the financial crisis.
At the Democratic National Convention, Obama took care not to celebrate the recovery — he left that to Bill Clinton, who testified that no one could have done the job of righting the ship better.
While Republicans say the new positive tone is undeserved and that coming in lieu of plan for the next four years, many Democrats see it as long in coming.
"He saved us from the brink of disaster," said one Obama aide. "It's about time he took some credit for that."
Now, if it’s not yet fully “Morning in America,” Obama wants voters to know it’s at least past dawn.
“The president’s remarks every day are a combination of steps we’ve taken, how well many of these steps have worked,” said Obama campaign traveling press secretary Jen Psaki. “Part of that is also explaining to the American people some of the good signs we’ve seen.”
The impetus for the change, according to campaign aides, was party the September jobs report that showed the unemployment rate sinking to 7.8 percent — and a figure many economists consider an anomaly — and a recent slew of positive housing indicators.
Before the unemployment rate fell below eight percent, Obama would trumpet “X months” of positive job creation. The rewrite is more explicit and celebratory. The stock market reference is an even newer addition to Obama’s stump speech — first deployed in Athens and tested on Democratic audiences by First Lady Michelle Obama for a week before.
The strategy faced its first test today on the heels of new data showing a rise in the number of first time jobless claims by 46,000 over last week, with the four-week average dropping slightly to 365,500. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney remarked that it followed “a broad array of positive economic data lately, including housing starts yesterday.”