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Obama talks education, economy in N.M. backyard

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- During his first stop on a four-state swing aimed at revving up Democratic voters, President Obama sought to make the case for keeping his party in the driver's seat in the next Congress.

This backyard discussion at a home in a rural area here was meant to provide the president with a more intimate backdrop to discuss the steps his administration has taken, with the help of Democrats in Congress, to get the economy back on track and to draw a distinction with the opposition. He held similar events in Fairfax, VA, last week and in Columbus, OH, last month.

With just five weeks to go before the midterm elections and polls still showing Republican voters with the enthusiasm edge, the president has hit the campaign trail to try to close the gap.

Here, he focused in part on steps his administration has taken to improve America's education system, from increasing access to early childhood education and making college more affordable through increased Pell Grants, to the "Race to the Top" competition, which provides states additional education funding if they put together a set of reforms to improve performance.

"The No. 1 issue in terms of us succeeding as an economy is going to be how well we educate and how well we train our kids," Obama said. "Nothing else comes close."

In mounting a rebuttal to the GOP's "Pledge to America" platform, the president said the Republicans' top economic priority was borrowing $700 billion to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of the population.

"That's their main economic plan," he said. "One way they would pay for it is to cut back our education spending by 20% and eliminate about 200,000 Head Start programs and reduce student aid to go to college for about eight million students."

Obama urged people heading to the polls in November to think about which party was going to prioritize young people.

The president spoke briefly, before taking questions from the group of 35 or so people gathered at the home on topics like immigration -- an issue he said was "being demagogued" -- the housing crisis, abortion, his own religious faith, small business lending and veterans' affairs.

Later on Tuesday, the president was set to travel to Madison, WI, to rally young people at the University of Wisconsin. On Wednesday, Obama planned to host two more backyard events in Des Moines, IA, and Richmond, VA, respectively.

On hand for the Albuquerque event were New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. Heinrich is facing a reelection fight, and Denish is running for governor.