Op-Ed: Obama, SOTU and election 2012

(LIN) – Go big or go home.

Economic fairness may have been the selected theme of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address because of a feisty duo of GOP presidential candidates jockeying for his job.

“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” he said Tuesday night.

Of course, the White House will say the president’s overall message in his address was to put forth an economic plan that would help the nation emerge from a national 8.5 percent unemployment rate.

They will also point to the small economic boom that began 2012 as evidence Obama’s policies were starting to work.

But the Obama re-election campaign will likely use his rhetoric to draw comparisons from Republican frontrunners, former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

Both GOP presidential candidates are multimillionaires and are currently battling money issues on the campaign trail.

The timing of Tuesday night’s address couldn’t have been better.

“Asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense,” the president said in the speech.

Romney is knee-deep in a tax flub that has Republican candidates as well as the Obama campaign painting him as a millionaire benefiting from an unfair tax code.

Originally, the former governor planned to release his income taxes by April. Yet after fellow Republicans attacked him, Romney was forced into releasing them Tuesday, much earlier than scheduled.

Leading up to the release, Romney also said he pays “about 15 percent” in taxes.

In actuality, in 2010, the former governor made $21.6 million and paid 13.9 percent in taxes.

“I won’t apologize for being successful,” Romney said during a recent debate.

While the average tax rate for Americans is 11 percent, the average tax rate for the wealthiest filers in 2009 was 22 percent.

 â€śMitt Romney prides himself on being a great businessman,” said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina after the South Carolina primary. “But the American people aren’t buying what he’s selling.”

Still, a recent national average poll had Obama and Romney neck-in-neck, with the president’s 47 percent of support to Romney’s 42 percent.

The former governor’s business background seems to be just enough of a threat to court independent voters.

"We need somebody to run the country - not somebody who's just a politician,” said Ken Shaw, a Romney supporter.

Gingrich, whose sharp rhetoric helped him to win the South Carolina primary, is Romney’s chief rival for the Republican nomination.

The former speaker is trying to push back charges that he was a lobbyist for the quasi-government housing agency Freddie Mac.

His Republican rivals say he collected nearly $1.6 million for lobbying, or as they call it, “influence peddling” to the agency in 2006.

“These government sponsored entities in the case of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are a large reason why our housing crisis has occurred. And I’m running against a guy, as you know, in this primary, who was out working for these guys, for Freddie Mac,” said Romney on the campaign trail in Florida.

Gingrich called it consulting, but was recently opted to release his Freddie Mac contract in hopes of quieting the conversation.

“I offer strategic advice for a lot of different companies… I did no lobbying of any kind,” he said in defense of the charges.  

It all seems relevant as the two men try to one-up each other in Florida, where, like the rest of the nation, is mired in deep unemployment.  Almost ten percent of Floridians are jobless and more than 40 percent of people owe money on their mortgaged properties.

Obama recently visited the state to tout the administration’s strategy to boost tourism. “America is open for business,” he said at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

Before he got off Air Force One, he was met with a web ad paid for by the Romney camp largely blaming the president’s policies for Florida’s unemployment and foreclosure problems.

“Things aren’t working, and we’re scraping by,” the ad says.

The Florida primary is on Jan. 31.

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John Perry can be followed via Twitter

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Florida (change)

 
Nicknamed the “Sunshine State,” Florida has a population of over 18.5 million people. Major cities include the capital of Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and Pensacola.
 
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Governor: Rick Scott
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Attorney General: Pam Bondi
State Treasurer: Jeff Atwater
Secretary of State: Kurt S. Browning

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