President Barack Obama's speech Wednesday in Galesburg, Ill., will be part of a series of addresses aimed at focusing attention on rebuilding the economy around the middle class, White House officials said Monday.
The president will make his remarks at Knox College, one of two speeches that day. The other is in Missouri.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday the speeches are aimed at addressing long-standing economic trends, like stagnating incomes for the middle class and growing income inequality, which he said were in place long before the recession, but have been made worse by it.
"We have to keep focused on the North Star here," he said.
Republicans lampooned the announcement that the president was seeking to focus on the economy for its familiarity.
On the National Republican Congressional Committee's blog, an official said the president had "pivoted" to the economy 11 other times, citing news reports.
The GOP called it a fleeting interest. "Inevitably, it gets pushed to the side in favor of their liberal agenda until, a few months later, they'll roll it out again — like the same old beat-up car with a new paint job," the post, by Matt Gorman, said.
The White House, on the other hand, said the speech would seek to skirt "fake scandals," in Carney's words, and remind Congress and the people what's important.
Carney said the president's remarks would have "thematic continuity" with the 2005 commencement address that then-Sen. Barack Obama gave at Knox College, as well as a 2011 speech in Osawatomie, Kan., in which the president took a populist theme.
In 2005, Obama's commencement address at Knox envisioned an important government role in building the economy and a strong middle class.
"Our economic dominance has depended on individual initiative and belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country," he said at the time.
White House officials have said the 2005 Knox College speech is considered an important one to the president.
Galesburg often has figured in some of his most prominent remarks, too.
In his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama mentioned meeting with Maytag workers that year; in 2010, the city's struggles came up again during his State of the Union address.
It's an area that's seen hard economic times. Earlier this year, it elected a new mayor who made improving the economy a key goal.
The jobless rate for Knox County is better than the statewide average, but at 7.7 percent in May, it's not much different than it was in 2004, according to state data. That year, the Maytag plant in the city closed, throwing 900 people out of work. At one point, more than 2,000 people worked there.
The city has struggled since then, though the jobless rate dipped below 7 percent in 2007 and 2008. The recession pushed it back up, however. In some months, it was even in the double digits.
Population has dropped since 2000, and median household income has grown only by about $1,800, to $32,700, from the middle part of the decade to the latter part of it, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
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Wayne Allen, the city's deputy mayor, says he believes things are improving somewhat, but it depends when you start measuring. "Galesburg is better off than we were five years ago. Not better off than we were 10 years ago," he says.
Allen says he believes the president still is popular here, despite the economic troubles. He won Knox County in the 2012 election, albeit with fewer votes than four years earlier.
Allen also pointed to the line that formed for tickets to Wednesday's speech, which is slated for 11:50 a.m.
Megan Scott, the chief communications officer for the college, said about 600 people lined up for tickets, and all were gone within two hours.
Allen says if he had a chance to talk with the president, he'd encourage investment in infrastructure — and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project.
"Let's get started on it," he says.
Robin Johnson, an adjunct professor at Monmouth College who was at that meeting with Obama and the Maytag workers back in 2004, noted a lot has transpired since then.
"With the population of the city decreasing, and with Obama using Galesburg constantly as a reference point for the future, it's fair to ask, 'What have his policies done to help the area?' Hopefully, he will shed light on that Wednesday," he said.