The US presidential and would-be candidates tried to put aside politically risky talk of gay rights and return to Americans’ top worry — the economy — in two states critical to the hopes of US President Barack Obama and his Republican Party rival, Mitt Romney.
Obama discussed how to help homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure in hard-hit Nevada, while Romney was focusing on jobs in North Carolina — more evidence that each views the sluggish economic recovery as the key issue in November’s election.
For both, it was a day to move past the week’s back-and-forth on gay marriage, punctuated by Obama’s announcement that he now supports it. Romney, who reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage repeatedly, was distracted by a news report that led him to apologize for mistreating a high-school classmate who was gay decades ago.
“There are things that we can do right now to help create jobs, to help restore some of the financial security that so many families have lost,” Obama told Nevada voters after he met with struggling homeowners. “But I have to say that there are a few too many Republicans in Congress who don’t seem to be as optimistic as we are.”
Obama also drew a contrast with Romney’s plan for the nation’s struggling housing market. While never mentioning Romney by name, the president criticized his rival and others in the Republican Party for saying the government should allow the housing market to “hit bottom and hope for the best.”
Romney was to navigate a tricky course yesterday when he was to give the commencement address at an evangelical university in Virginia, a long-planned speech designed to help him reconcile with religious conservatives nervous about his record on social issues like abortion and gay rights.
The presumptive Republican nominee planned to blend social and economic themes by telling Liberty University’s graduates that strong families are central to a strong economy.
“America needs your talent and your energy, all the more now that our country’s in a tough spot,” he says in prepared remarks for his speech at the school founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell. “In the most practical, everyday terms, the best cultural assets are values as basic as personal responsibility, the dignity of hard work, and, above all, the commitments of family.”
The speech at Liberty is a Republican tradition as well as a chance for Romney to repair what has been a frayed connection with the evangelical right. US Senator John McCain gave the 2006 commencement address on his path to winning the 2008 Republican nomination. Former US president George W. Bush addressed graduates while he was serving in the White House.
“He will do better if he runs toward and not away from the issues of life and marriage,” said Maggie Gallagher, the cofounder of the National Organization for Marriage. “Everyone says that the economy is the main issue. The question is whether a candidate seems to be embarrassed by his own views on life and marriage or tries to run from them, or if he can eloquently defend them.”
Still, Republican leaders are warning activists against making the gay marriage issue more prominent than Obama’s stewardship of the economy.
“I’m gonna stay focused on jobs, thanks,” US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said the day after Obama’s pronouncement on gay marriage. “The president can talk about it all he wants.”