On Thursday, President Obama visits Austin, Texas, the first stop on his "Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour." On the face of it, "Texas might seem an odd place for Obama to talk jobs and the economy, given Gov. Rick Perry's habit of claiming that he and Republicans are responsible for the state's economic success," says Wayne Slater at The Dallas Morning News.
Indeed, the "so-called Texas Miracle, the state's huge population growth over the last decade and its economy's ability to survive and thrive during the recent global recession," is purportedly based on low taxes, scant regulation, and few services — hardly keystones of Obama's agenda, says Ben Philpott at The Texas Tribune.
So why is Obama making Austin the first stop on his jobs tour? Four theories:
1. Austin actually fits Obama's agenda pretty well
"Texas Republicans aren't sure whether to roll out the welcome mat or roll their eyes" at Obama's visit, says Richard Dunham at the Houston Chronicle. But his two scheduled stops in Austin — Manor New Tech High School, which offers high-tech vocational education, and tech firm Applied Materials — actually fit pretty well with the goals Obama laid out in his State of the Union Address. (Watch White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park make that argument below.)
And more broadly, "the fact that Texas is doing well — whether because of Perry or business-friendly policies or the state's natural energy base — actually works to Obama's advantage," says The Dallas Morning News' Slater.
He'll point to Manor New Tech High School's creative approach to education and say he wants to encourage that kind of thing nationally. He'll meet with middle-class workers and emphasize job training. He'll visit a high-tech manufacturing company, Applied Materials, competing in a global market and say it's evidence that America is coming back after some difficult years. [Dallas Morning News]
2. Obama wants to boost Texas Democrats
Texas is doing well economically, but it's "also is a target for Democrats who want to overturn the Republican Party's dominance in statewide and federal elections there," says Margaret Talev at Bloomberg News. Nobody expects the Lone Star State to turn blue in the next five years, but "putting attention on economic growth in a city dominated by Democrats such as Austin helps," according to Democratic political consultants.
"A presidential visit in the spring of 2013 is not tied around any election," Jeremy Bird, Obama's former national campaign field director, tells Bloomberg. But "it certainly doesn't hurt to highlight some of the great things that are happening in Austin. One of the things Democrats in Texas need to continue to do is to talk about what their vision of the economy is."
3. It's all about Ted Cruz
The real target of the president's visit "is a Republican Congress that has opposed Obama on everything from background checks and immigration to taxes, education, spending and the budget," says Slater at The Dallas Morning News. And let's face it, "nobody's a more visible face of the opposition than Sen. Ted Cruz, Tea Party star and potential presidential candidate."
Cruz, with his no-compromise style, is arguably the perfect foil to the self-styled compromiser-in-chief, who's taking his jobs agenda on the road to put pressure on the recalcitrant Congress. And unlike Perry — who's such old news that some pollsters aren't even asking about him for 2016, says Slater — Cruz is a hot topic of presidential speculation.
"What Obama wants to do is come into Texas and say, look at how great everything is and to take credit for something that really isn't his," Bob Van der Plaats, an influential Christian conservative leader in Iowa, tells The Dallas Morning News. "And without saying it, he's saying you've got this Sen. Ted Cruz who wants to be the fly in the ointment. Tell him to fall in line."
4. Obama has to start somewhere
The presidential road trip "is a time-honored gambit for recruiting help from outside the Beltway," says Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. And promoting his jobs agenda outside Washington is especially attractive to a president with little leverage in Congress but high popularity ratings. So what if Austin is in Texas. It's also a city "where high-tech manufacturing has produced real recovery, if not quite a boom."
His roadshow also starts "as a poll shows Americans say what they want most from politicians in Washington is job creation and helping the economy grow," says Mark Felsenthal at Reuters. In a Gallup poll released Tuesday, 86 percent of respondents ranked creating more jobs as their No. 1 priority for Congress and the president, and 86 percent picked helping the economy grow. The next-closest item on the wish list was deficit reduction, at 69 percent.
For what it's worth, the White House says that Obama is hitting Austin first "to learn more about what's being done there to create stable and well-paying jobs that can support a middle-class family," meeting with both high school students "learning real-world skills for today's jobs" and "technology entrepreneurs who are creating the tools and products that will drive America's long-term economic growth," according to White House official Megan Slack.
Here, White House CTO Todd Park explains the Austin pick: