PORTLAND, Ore. – President Barack Obama, in a speech to enthusiastic supporters gathered at the Oregon Convention Center Tuesday, once again called for the end of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.
He framed his remarks by digging deep into the ideal America and its core values – those who work hard can get ahead. That part at least can be agreed upon by both Republicans and Democrats. But Obama spared no expense in saying the economic policies of his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, “have been tried before and didn’t work."
As he has done before Obama once again called on Congress to let the Bush tax cuts expire for those making over $250,000.
Obama’s almost 40-minute speech came after a private fundraiser, which the Obama campaign said was attended by about 975 people. About 950 people paid $500 to $1,000 to attend the fundraiser and another 25 people paid $30,000 in what appeared to be a separate fundraising event. The campaign, however, did not release any additional details about the fundraisers.
The economy has been a central point of contention in the presidential campaign this year. The recovery from the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression has been slow. Nationally and in Oregon, the latest numbers from June show the unemployment rate was still hovering at 8.2 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively.
The sluggish recovery has opened up Obama’s economic policies for attack by Romney, who says the president has failed to put the country back on a path toward a robust economy.
But Obama fired back in his Oregon speech, saying Romney’s plan for cutting taxes for the wealthy and looser regulations for banks have been tried before and failed. Obama specifically referenced the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush.
“We’ve tried this … except on steroids, and it didn’t work,” he said, adding that his economic policies have already been tested by Bill Clinton during his presidency, which Obama said created jobs.
The speech was aimed to fire up supporters and Obama did not put forth any new policy ideas. But he touched on just about every policy issue from the campaign trail from education to national security. But notably, he worked to establish a foundation for his economic policies by speaking about the basic core values that most Americans share.
"Here in America, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what your last name is, no matter where you worship – here in America, if you're willing to work hard, you can make it," he said, adding that "everybody gets a fair shake, and that everybody does their fair share, and that everybody's playing by the same set of rules. That's what built the greatest middle class in the world. That's what made us the economic superpower," he said.
But he argued that the American ideal is being threatened by those who hold views similar to Romney's, and he argued to get back to that basic American ideal is what he is fighting for and is why, he said, he is running for a second term.
Obama also said that deficits will hurt the country in the long term and one way to curb their increases is to ask the wealthy to pay a little more in taxes.
"Mr. Romney wants to cut taxes by an additional $5 trillion," he said. "It's hard to figure how you reduce the deficit by blowing an additional $5 trillion hole in the deficit."
The most rousing applause from his supporters during the speech came when Obama began trumpeting his success of getting the Affordable Health Care Act through Congress and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Watch President Obama's Entire Speech
After deplaning Air Force One just after 11:30 a.m., Obama spent a few minutes greeting bystanders who were behind a barricade and had waited for his arrival.
Before heading to the Convention Center, he made an unscheduled stop at the Gateway Breakfast House in Northeast Portland.
While there, he met with three retired veterans and talked about their access to medical care, PTSD and their experiences with the VA, according to pool reports.
Marv Self of Portland was in the diner when Obama came in. He said he stopped at the diner to kill some time and avoid traffic on the freeway caused by Obama’s motorcade.
"We're on a path now. Do we carry on that path or do we go back to change again?" he said when asked about his view of the election.
He added that he won’t decide who he’ll vote for until the last minute. He said even though the president stopped by for breakfast, earning his vote was “not that easy.”
Protesters Converge at the Oregon Convention Center
Advocates demanding tougher gun-control laws were among several dozen demonstrators who greeted President Barack Obama outside a fundraising stop in Oregon on Tuesday.
In the wake of a mass shooting that killed 12 and injured 58 others in Aurora, Colo., last week, demonstrators said Obama needs to stand up to the deep-pocketed National Rifle Association. They want him to push Congress to reinstate an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that expired in 2004.
"He hasn't been aggressive about promoting change in the culture of violence," said DeEtte Waleed of Portland, who added that she'll nonetheless vote for him because "the alternative is just too scary to contemplate."
Protesters were kept far back from the entrance to the Oregon Convention Center, where the president was scheduled to hold a fundraiser Tuesday afternoon for his re-election campaign. His motorcade did not pass them.
Penny Okamoto, director of the gun-control group Cease Fire Oregon, noted that some of the victims in Aurora were killed or wounded while trying to protect others.
"We need Obama, Romney, to be just as brave and stand up to the NRA," Okamoto said.
"Their kind words, their platitudes — that's nice, but we need action. We need leadership," she said.
Several dozen demonstrators pushed other issues, too, most of them liberal causes. Some protested punitive marijuana laws, others the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists or plans to export coal through Northwest ports for use in Asia.
Originally the fundraiser was supposed to be held at the Portland Art Museum but was moved to the Oregon Convention Center and a “grassroots event” was announced. However, the campaign canceled the event after the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater last week, saying the tone of a larger event would be inappropriate.
Neither Obama nor Romney has held public campaign events in Oregon.
Tuesday was the first time during this year's presidential campaign that Obama has made a stop in Portland. His last visit was in February 2011 when he visited Intel in Hillsboro to speak about education and technology.
Romney has made three fundraising runs in Oregon. During his last stop, he reportedly raised over $1 million.
After his Portland stop, Obama will travel to Seattle for two fundraisers. No public events are scheduled there, either.
Romney raised about $10 million in his two days of fundraising in California. Obama is expected to net about $6 million during his visit to the West Coast that included stops in California and Nevada.
Associated Press reporters Jonathan J. Cooper, Steven DuBois and KATU Web Producer John Tierney contributed to this report.