TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – At the end of a momentous week, President Barack Obama headed for Indiana, hoping he’s now in a position to woo voters like Charlotte Michalak.
Michalak, a 55-year-old grandmother living in western Indiana who voted for Obama in 2008 and now finds herself uncertain, works two jobs so that she can pay her bills. She’s given up cable TV service to cut costs. Another large spike in gas prices, she fears, could sever her fraying link to the middle class, to her home, to self-sufficiency.
“I want to see what’s out there,” she said about the next election as she ate lunch at a cafeteria in Terre Haute earlier this week. “I just want to see what’s being said and what’s happening.”
What’s been happening this week is a bit of a victory lap for the president in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death. Obama has seen his standing advance in the polls and Republicans retreat on their plan to overhaul Medicare. Voters have indicated to pollsters that they feel more confident in him as commander in chief. Thursday he visited ground zero. Later Friday, he headed to Kentucky to meet at Fort Campbell with the commandos who attacked bin Laden’s compound and to shake hands with troops.
But political operatives for both parties believe that pocketbook issues, not foreign policy, will determine the next election, and Obama was also quick to pivot from terrorism back to the economic concerns of voters like Michalak – high gasoline prices, for example.
“I know how tough it is,” said Obama, speaking at Allison Transmission in Indianapolis, which makes automatic transmissions for vehicles. “If you’ve got to drive to work and you may not be able to afford buying a new car, so you’ve got that old beater that gets you eight miles per gallon, it’s tough. It is a huge strain on a lot of people.”
He pushed administration energy policies designed to boost automobile fuel efficiency and subsidize electric vehicles, saying they would lead to new manufacturing jobs and wean the U.S. off imported oil. And while he conceded that such measures are not a recipe for bringing down gas prices right away, he wanted frustrated voters to come away convinced that he sides with them – not the oil companies.
“Oil companies over the last five years, through a recession, through ups and downs, the top five oil companies, their profits have ranged between $75 billion and $125 billion,” he said. “And yet, they still have a tax loophole that is costing taxpayers $4 billion every year. Now, if you’re already paying them at the pump, we don’t need to pay them through the tax code.”