Original Title: Elected officials say no thanks to Obama invite --cd3
By Mike Wereschagin
Congressmen Jason Altmire and Tim Murphy have previous engagements. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. and Rep. Mike Doyle are out of town on anniversary trips with their wives. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato will be campaigning in Philadelphia.
When President Obama and Sen. Arlen Specter land at Pittsburgh International Airport today, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will receive them by himself.
The rest of the region's top elected officials declined White House invitations to attend Obama's speech at Carnegie Mellon University this afternoon, their offices said.
The White House billed Obama's speech as a follow-up to his economic address at Georgetown University on April 14, 2009, less than two months after he signed the $787 billion stimulus bill. In it, he spoke of laying "a new foundation for growth and prosperity -- a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow-and-spend to one where we save and invest."
Obama's last trip to Pittsburgh was Sept. 24 and 25, when the city hosted the Group of 20 economic summit. He was in town 10 days before that to deliver the keynote address at the AFL-CIO convention. During both of those trips, elected officials didn't greet him at the airport -- as Ravenstahl will -- but met up with him later, snagging a slice of the ever-present media spotlight on the country's chief executive.
"It's peculiar, to say the least," Gerald Shuster, professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh, said about elected officials declining such invitations.
Altmire, a McCandless Democrat, will be in Midland, about an hour from Carnegie Mellon's Oakland campus, to talk about $500,000 he secured for charter schools, spokeswoman Tess Mullen said.
"More than 150 people are coming," Mullen said. "It's been advertised for weeks."
Obama lost Altmire's district to Arizona Sen. John McCain by 10 percentage points in 2008. Altmire voted against administration priorities such as climate change and health care legislation, citing the wishes of constituents.
Onorato's Philadelphia event was scheduled "for quite some time" before the White House announced the president's visit Friday, spokesman Brian Herman said.
Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, will be heading up a technology expo at a Canonsburg hotel. His office said that, too, had been in the works for a while.
Doyle's excursion is necessary to secure the support of a narrow but essential constituency, he said.
"I planned this getaway with my wife months ago to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary," Doyle said via e-mail from his undisclosed location. "If I'd canceled it, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be celebrating our 36th anniversary next year."
Obama won Pennsylvania in 2008 with 55 percent of the vote. Shortly after, Casey, Doyle and Specter joined him at the White House to watch the Steelers win the Super Bowl.
Obama's Georgetown speech laid out five "pillars" on which the country's economy would grow: new Wall Street regulations, federal budget savings, and investments in education, renewable energy and health care. Major changes since the speech include Senate passage of a financial reform bill on May 20; handing out the first round of education grants in the $4.4 billion Race to the Top program, with the second round beginning this month; and passage of a health care law in March.
The unemployment rate was 8.9 percent when Obama gave the Georgetown speech, and 9.9 percent in April, according to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The country's Gross Domestic Product shrank at a rate of 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2009. In the first quarter of 2010, it increased 4.1 percent.
A Susquehanna Polling & Research survey in April found Obama's job approval in Pennsylvania fell to 42 percent, with 49 percent disapproving.
In the 10-county Southwestern Pennsylvania area, 43 percent approved of his performance, compared to 45 percent who disapproved, said Jim Lee, the polling company's president. The counties are Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland.
Officials in swing districts such as Altmire's, with an electorate showing an anti-incumbent mood, are loathe to link themselves to Washington, Lee said.
"I think Altmire fears a Charlie Crist moment," Lee said, referring to the Florida governor voters chased from the GOP Senate primary this year after his more-conservative opponent used photos of Crist and Obama embracing.
Ravenstahl will greet Obama and Specter as they step off Air Force One at Pittsburgh International, and the three will ride into the city together, said Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, Joanna Doven.
The mayor plans to make the most of his face time, discussing some of the city's transportation needs and highlighting economic strides Pittsburgh has made, Doven said.
Obama last visited Carnegie Mellon as a candidate in 2008.
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