Obama takes break from battleground states to tout health

The White House’s choice of Maine to promote healthcare on Thursday is not steeped in campaign politics.

President Barack Obama won’t be staking time in a swing state when he goes to Portland, and he won’t be helping Democrats win crucial Senate seats. Neither GOP Senate incumbent in the state is up for reelection in 2010.

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Before healthcare’s passage, Obama had traveled to swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania to tout healthcare reform.

A White House official said not to expect any pressure from Obama on Maine's two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Both voted against healthcare reform, though the White House thought each was a gettable centrist vote at the beginning of the debate.

Snowe did cast a vote in favor of healthcare legislation approved by the Senate Finance Committee; that was the only yes vote for healthcare from a Republican senator.

Obama will be joined in Maine, which he won overwhelmingly in the 2008 presidential election, by Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud. Neither is seen as vulnerable in the fall.

There is a governor’s race in 2010 in Maine, but the incumbent Democrat is term-limited and not running.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said this week that the political roadmap was not considered for this week's travel schedule.

“There’s a thousand years before the next elections,” Gibbs said. “You guys will have plenty of time to go cover them. The president is not focused on what happens the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. We’re focused on this Monday and this Tuesday.”

Obama will be focused on “the small-business aspects” of the legislation in his remarks on Thursday, the White House said.

Gibbs said one of the reasons Maine was selected is that Small Business Administration administrator Karen Mills is from Maine “and we’re going to focus on — again, on the small-business aspects of the healthcare reform.”

Snowe and Collins are likely to stay in the president’s focus this year and beyond even if they are not targeted in Thursday’s speech.

Both could be swing votes on a variety of issues, and the White House will need Republican senators to join Democrats in order to move things through the Senate.

Their importance will only increase next year if Republicans gain seats in the Senate.

Spokesmen for both senators said it was an honor to have the president visit their state, but Collins’s spokesman also took a shot at Obama on the economy.

“While healthcare is certainly an important topic, Sen. Collins is hopeful that the president will also use this opportunity to talk more about his plans to help create much-needed jobs and address the struggling economy,” the spokesman said in an e-mail.

On Friday, the president shifts to the economy during a trip to Charlotte, N.C., that coincides with the release of March unemployment numbers.

“North Carolina is one of the states in the country that has seen fairly big unemployment in terms of their rate is north of 10 percent,” Gibbs said. “And we will highlight a company that is seeing, as a result of some of the investments that they’ve made in creating the jobs of the future, increases that they’ve made in their hiring rolls, on Friday.”

One forecast released Thursday said private sector jobs would decline in March, but the numbers to be released on Friday are expected to show net growth in large part because of hiring by the Census Bureau.

After his stop in Maine, Obama will travel to Boston for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. He’ll return to the White House on Thursday night before leaving again for the Tar Heel State on Friday.