China Looms Over Obama Jobs Push

“Cree management never runs this company as a U.S. company. We consider Cree to be a global company with local wisdoms.”

-- Chuck Swoboda, chief executive of LED manufacturer Cree, who will meet President Obama on a campaign trip to the company’s North Carolina plant today, quoted by trade publication LEDs Magazine speaking at the December 2010 opening of a new plant in the Guangdong Province of China.

President Obama is on a best-case scenario campaign trip today. He’s heading to North Carolina, a red state he turned blue in 2008, selling the advantages of his 2009 stimulus package for green jobs.

The closer we get to Election Day, you may be more likely to find Obama in a blue state like Pennsylvania talking the need to protect the steel industry or simplify the tax code. But for now, he is operating a campaign on offense. Like trying to sell the GM and Chrysler bailouts in Ohio last week, this trip is about trying to turn a negative, in this case the stimulus, into a positive.

Interestingly, North Carolina looks a bit more hospitable to Obama these days than traditional swing state Ohio. With a large black population (22 percent) and a major segment of its economy driven by government-funded higher education and research, North Carolina could stay in Obama’s orbit for some time.

Though Virginia, with a similarly large black population and greater government dependence is more appealing for the Obama campaign, North Carolina has the right mix of blacks and white liberals to merit the president’s attention.

But Politico reports today that one of Obama’s top economic surrogates, Larry Summers, was trying to buck up disheartened donors by promising that the unemployment rate could be as low as 8 percent by Election Day.

If that’s the spin from the home team, it seems unlikely that Obama will be looking at such a large campaign map. An economy that crummy would put Obama on the defensive not just in Pennsylvania but other blue states like Michigan. It would also make holding on to swings states like Ohio and Florida an ordeal.

Speaking of Florida, Obama heads there for some more big-money fundraising. As Democrats begin to openly wonder if Obama can win back the big money donors who fueled his record-shattering 2008 drive, Obama will be targeting the deep pockets of South Florida.

Then he’s off to Puerto Rico for a photo-op. That’s part of a strategy to minimize the clout of the Republican-leaning Cuban community that dominates Florida’s Hispanic population. As Obama looks to mobilize Caribbean immigrants other than Cubanos, look for the administration to highlight Haiti aid and other initiatives.

But before Obama can get on to the business of marginalizing conservative Latinos, he must first get out of North Carolina intact.

Republicans are hammering the administration for choosing to highlight the accomplishments of lighting manufacturer Cree in Durham, N.C. Cree got nearly $30 million is subsidies from the president’s 2009 stimulus to encourage the manufacture of environmentally friendly LED (light emitting diode) bulbs and is a growing operation.

But the company’s growth seems mostly to be happening in China, where more than 50 percent of the company’s workforce now resides. Republicans say Cree took money borrowed from China at the expense of American taxpayers to subsidize Chinese jobs.

While Obama likes to highlight Americans who are operating in China, Cree may be a bridge too far for American (and North Carolinian) voters at a time of massive unemployment, a shaky domestic economy and a gathering debt crisis.

Romney Tests His Front-runner Clout

“President Obama said that he designed Obamacare after Romneycare and basically made it Obamneycare. What I don’t understand is that they both continue to defend it.”

-- Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on “FOX News Sunday.”

Mitt Romney is looking to solidify his new status as the Republican front-runner today.

Most of the 2012 field will be on his turf today as the second Republican debate of the cycle takes place in New Hampshire. Hosted by CNN’s Candy Crowley, the debate should be a chance for Romney to shine as the kind of pragmatic moderate that has traditionally thrived in the Granite State.

While Romney is steering clear of the terrain more favorable to his foes in places like Iowa and South Carolina, the frontrunner in a slew of recent polls is staking a heavy wager on New Hampshire. Anything but a big win there would be deadly to his chances. So he will have to face the pack tonight.

Tim Pawlenty has the most at stake as he travels to New Hampshire. The former Minnesota governor is far from his Midwestern comfort zone and toting a consistent second-tier polling status. Pawlenty has been more pugnacious and more frankly conservative as Republicans wonder if the Minnesota nice guy is relevant.

He will be looking to take the bark off of Romney tonight as he demonstrates that he’s no shrinking violet and to solidify his status as a more conservative alternative to Romney. While Romney will have to reassure New Hampshire voters that he is a Massachusetts moderate, Pawlenty’s audience will be national in nature.

But Pawlenty will have to go a long way to not get upstaged by the attacks on Romney that will be leveled by the other combatants.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is making her presidential quasi debut (CNN is allowing her to join the fray even though she has not filed as a candidate but is excluding former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson who has filed and consistently shown national support in polls). She is guaranteed to denounce moderate Republicanism of Romney’s brand as namby-pamby stuff.

Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, will also be RINO hunting.

There will be plenty to work with. Aside from the old reliable for Romney attacks – the former governor’s 2006 health care law – there is some new material. Romney has reaffirmed his belief that Americans are partly responsible for causing the earth’s temperature to rise. There’s also a zinger in today’s Wall Street Journal that looks at how much Romney relied on federal funds to help rescue the scandal-scarred 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The paper reports that when the Government Accountability office probed why the Salt Lake City games got more than $1.3 billion in aid (more than double the outlay for the 1996 Atlanta games) Romney wrote to investigators: "The mission of taking the Olympic Games to the world is a mission of peace. Recognizing that our government spends billions of dollars to maintain wartime capability, it is entirely appropriate to invest several hundred million dollars to promote peace."

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is trying on his role as potential presidential contender. Perry fired up Hispanic pro-life activists at a Los Angeles convention and will be popping up soon at high-profile events, including the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Saturday in New Orleans.

As Perry tests his national appeal as a more conservative alternative to Romney, the existing applicants for that position (plus Bachmann) will be probing all of his weak spots.

Rank and File Dems Demand a Tax Hike

HOUSE MINORITY WHIP STENY HOYER: “Supply-side economics, frankly, has failed. It failed in the Reagan administration where we incurred $1.4 trillion in new deficit. It failed…”

HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN PAUL RYAN: “Steny, the commission recommended supply-side economics. Erskine Bowles is saying lower tax rates for economic growth…We think revenues should grow by growing the economy, and raising tax rates hurts economic growth.”

HOYER: “Now listen to me -- That was the argument in 1981, that was the argument in 2001 and both times we had continuing large deficits.”

RYAN: “The difference today is we’re putting up the spending cut.”

-- Budget debate on “Face the Nation”

Some Democrats are trying to make a tax increase on upper income earners a condition for a debt deal, warning Republicans that they will face the prospect of shutting down the government in order to defend “millionaires and billionaires” if they don’t agree.

It’s getting late in the game (the shutdown would start around Aug. 2 and the economic upheaval caused by fear of an impasse is already well underway), and Democrats are looking for something that can get the support of some Republicans (at least seven in the Senate and 24 in the House) and nearly all of their members.

If the goal is to raise the current debt limit by $2 trillion from the current $14.3 trillion, Democrats will need some kind of tax hike to keep their team together. If President Obama and congressional Democratic leaders don’t have unity, they will be more reliant on Republicans, which likely means a series of short extensions under the Boehner plan ($1 in cuts for every $1 in borrowing).

Ending what Democrats call “the Bush tax cuts” is shaping up as a precondition of any debt deal on the left. President Obama traded that away in December to prevent an across-the-board tax increase as the decade-old rates were set to expire, kicking in the higher rates of the Clinton era.

Since there is not enough time to cut a deal on overhauling the whole tax code – a process that would have allowed the kind of cut-rates-but-close-loopholes deal that could have had bipartisan support, a tax hike on the wealthy has become the one-line answer for disheartened Democrats.

But while there is some wiggle room on the right when it comes to a big tax deal and even the nature and size of cuts, there is nothing to be done on a straight tax hike.

It looks increasingly likely that Democrats are going to face a similar process of a series of smaller cuts to keep the government open as they did during the springtime battle over a continuing resolution.