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Obama focuses his message on the choice facing voters

By Tom Cohen, CNN
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Obama blasts GOP in speech to youth
  • NEW: Obama pummels Republicans in University of Wisconsin-Madison speech
  • The president seeks to motivate Democrats to vote
  • Obama highlights differences between Democrats and Republicans
  • Republican victories will stall progress, a White House aide says

Washington (CNN) -- On issue after issue Tuesday, President Barack Obama kept returning to a campaign theme he repeated like a mantra -- voters have a choice of supporting Democrats in November to continue moving the nation forward, or backing Republicans to return to failed policies of the past.

The president faced a range of questions at a town hall-style meeting in the yard of a home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but no matter the topic -- education, small businesses, military veterans, clean energy -- he repeatedly reminded listeners that the upcoming congressional elections would be their time to decide.

"I hope everybody is going to pay attention and do their homework and find out about candidates," Obama said at the end of the hour-long event. "And I think what you'll find is, is that when you're making choices for governor and you're making choices for Senate and Congress, that these choices are going to mean something."

He encouraged people to ask themselves, "What direction do I want this country to go in?"

Video: Obama tries to rally young voters

"Do I want to invest in our people, in our middle class and making it stronger, and our infrastructure and our education system and clean energy -- is that one vision," Obama said, "or are we just going to keep on doing the same things that got us into this mess in the first place?"

His stark portrayal of the stakes in November comes as polls show likely losses for Democrats, with a possibility they could lose their majority in the House.

Lingering high unemployment, two wars and a growing federal deficit feed voter anger. Republican critics amplified by right-wing media and an energized conservative Tea Party movement continually hammer Obama's administration and congressional Democrats for what they call irresponsible policies.

Bill Burton, the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters Tuesday that Obama was seeking to fire up Democrats for November by emphasizing the choice facing Americans.

"What he's making is a very practical argument about making sure people get out and vote," Burton said, later adding: "If folks sit on the sidelines and if Republican leaders in Washington get more votes come this November, then the impact on the lives of Americans from tax cuts to the strength of our schools to the strength of our economy will be profound."

At his final stop of the day -- the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Library Mall -- Obama pummeled Republicans as the party that has "said no to just about every idea and policy I've proposed -- even ideas that historically, traditionally, they agreed with."

"Understand, for the last decade, the Republicans in Washington subscribed to a very simple philosophy -- and I want to be clear, this is the Republican leadership in Washington. A whole bunch of Republicans out all across America are feeling pretty disaffected, too, by what they saw when the Republicans were in charge," he said.

"You cut regulations for special interests, whether it's the banks or the oil companies or health insurance companies. Let them write their own rules. You cut back on investments in education and clean energy and research and technology. So basically the idea was if you just put blind faith in the market, if we let corporations play by their own rules, if we leave everybody else to fend for themselves, then America would automatically grow and prosper."

"But that philosophy failed" the president said.

"Your future is at stake," he told the overflow crowd that university police said topped 26,000. "We have a different idea of what the next two years should look like."

Obama cajoled Democrats, telling them the political pundits have predicted "a bloodletting for Democrats."

"They're basically saying that you're apathetic, you're disappointed, you're 'Oh, well, we're not sure that we're going to turn out,'" he said. "Wisconsin, we can't let that happen. We cannot sit this one out. We can't let this country fall backwards because the rest of us didn't care enough to fight. The stakes are too high for our country and for your future, and I am going to get out there and fight as hard as I can -- and I know you are, too -- to make sure we keep moving forward."

Earlier Tuesday, at the first stop in Albuquerque on a four-state, campaign-style tour this week, Obama focused on his achievements of his first 20 months in office and depicted Republicans as practicing the politics of destruction.

On education, he said, reforms so far are aimed at raising standards and improving the aptitude of U.S. students in math and science so they are better prepared for college and careers in the global economy.

Republicans, Obama said, are proposing widespread spending cuts while trying to ensure that Bush-era tax cuts get extended to the wealthiest 2 percent of the population at a cost to the nation of $700 billion over the next 10 years.

"I just want everybody to think about those kinds of issues as you go into the polling place in November," Obama said. "Who's going to prioritize our young people to make sure they've got the skills they need to succeed over the long term? Nothing is going to be more important in terms of our long-term success."

When a young man started crying while asking about veterans' benefits for his disabled father, Obama walked over to console him, then noted increased spending by his administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"This is again an example of where, come November, we've got to start making some choices because if, for example, we give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires that cost us $700 billion that we don't have, that money has to come from somewhere," Obama said. "And we've got to be able to provide for our veterans. I'd rather choose veterans."

In another response, Obama derided Republicans for playing politics on issues with a view toward the upcoming elections.

"This is the greatest country on Earth and will continue to be the greatest country on Earth as long as we can go ahead and handle serious problems that we have, instead of playing political games all the time," Obama said. "And when you look at the choices before you, I think you've got to ask yourself who is offering serious answers."