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Obama visits NH, urges passage of Jobs Act
President Barack Obama greets Seattle Brown of Manchester after speaking at Manchester Central High School on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
MANCHESTER — He may be trailing in the polls in New Hampshire, but you'd never know it from the enthusiastic reception President Barack Obama received at Manchester High School Central on Tuesday.
It was Obama's first visit to the state in nearly two years, and his first to Manchester since becoming President in 2008.
He began his speech at Central with a few shout-outs.
“Hello, Little Green,” he yelled to wild applause, referring to Central's team name.
Obama said that he was making good on a promise to return to Central. His last visit to the school, nearly four years ago, had to be cut short due to a snowstorm.
“Principal Mailhot reminded me of what I said to him. I promised him that I would be back,” Obama said. “I just want to point out, we're keeping our promise — we are back.”
The auditorium was packed with members of the senior class, the marching band, teachers, members of the public, a phalanx of reporters and TV cameras, and state and local Democratic leaders, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
In his speech, the President railed against opposition to his American Jobs Act in Congress, as well as the failure of the so-called supercommittee to come up with a deficit reduction plan this week. He specifically called on Congress to vote next week to extend the payroll tax cut, saying failure to do so would take thousands of dollars out of the pockets of middle-class families.
“As I look around this room and I see these young people, but I also see their parents, I'm thinking, folks in Manchester, you guys work hard,” Obama said. “At the very least, you should expect Congress to do the same. They should be doing everything in their power to make our economy stronger, not weaker.”
The President's message, however, had its detractors. Several dozen protesters, including supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, gathered at Bronstein Park near Central High, some of them holding signs that read “Obama Isn't Working.”
► Click here to view a gallery of photos from the President's visit.
The visit coincided with Romney's launch of a TV ad campaign in New Hampshire that criticizes the President's management of the economy, as well as his issuance of an open letter to Obama.
“I will be blunt. Your policies have failed. It is bad enough that they have fallen short even by the standards your own administration set for itself,” Romney states in the letter.
A recent Bloomberg poll showed Romney running 10 percentage points ahead of Obama among New Hampshire voters.
Other Republican candidates held their own events timed for the President's visit, including Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul.
There was also a brief commotion early in the President's speech, apparently instigated by supporters of the Occupy movement. A man called out “mic check,” and a group of people clustered in several parts of the auditorium responded in kind, using the communication method adopted by the Occupy protesters.
“Mr. President, 4,000 peaceful protesters have been arrested,” the man said, apparently referring to crackdowns on Occupy encampments at several cities around the country.
The chants were quickly drowned out by Central High students chanting, “Obama.”
►President Obama gets 'Mic Checked' by Occupy protestrrs
“I appreciate you guys making your point,” Obama said in response to the disturbance. “Let me go ahead and make mine, all right? And I'll listen to you, you listen to me.”
Air Force One touched down at the Wiggins Airways terminal at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport at 11 Tuesday. The president was greeted on the tarmac by Gov. John Lynch and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who had a chance to raise one of his priorities in a brief conversation with Obama.
“I welcomed him to Manchester and told him he was going to the oldest high school in the state, there were 72 different languages spoken there and that maybe he would find the opportunity to look at the waiver,” said Gatsas, referring to the district's efforts for more than a year to try to exempt students who lack basic English skills from required standardized tests.
After shaking hands with some of the several dozen people who had gathered to greet him at the airport, the President and his motorcade sped into the city. En route to Central High, the President made a surprise stop at Julien's Corner Kitchen on Bridge Street, where he spoke briefly to Chris Corkery, a retired U.S. Army colonel and current Central High teacher, and his family about their economic concerns. Corkery was to introduce the President at Central. (See related story.)
For all the politics surrounding the President's visit, Manchester resident Mark Jones said this wasn't what led him to stand in the cold to greet Obama at the airport Tuesday morning.
“It's exciting that he's coming to Manchester,” Jones said. “It's quite an honor.”
New Hampshire Union Leader Reporter Beth LaMontagne Hall contributed to this article.
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