President Barack Obama’s visit to Utah isn’t just the first time he’s been to the state while in office. It’s also the latest stop on his tour of Republican “red” states.
Obama has traveled to 10 Republican states since the GOP took control of both houses of Congress in January. Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho, Kansas, Indiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Utah all voted for Obama’s Republican opponent in 2012. He has visited nine states that voted to give him a second term.
The White House says there is no concerted effort to put the president in Republican states.
Spokesman Eric Schultz said the ideas Obama has been talking about, including curbing payday lending practices and tuition-free community college, are common-sense ones with broad — not partisan — appeal. Some of the ideas were inspired by activities in these states, and it is appropriate for Obama to show up there to promote them, Schultz said.
Obama discussed new limits on payday lending in Birmingham, Alabama, which, Schultz said, had done a lot of hard work on the issue.
Similarly, Obama went to Knoxville, Tennessee, to start promoting his community college proposal. Schultz said it was inspired by a program begun under Tennessee’s Republican governor.
“There are really important, substantive reasons that explain the places we go,” Schultz said in an interview.
Obama’s overnight stay in Salt Lake City also brought him closer to meeting a goal that only a few presidents have achieved: visiting all 50 states while in office.
At the start of the year, Obama had been to 46 states. The White House quickly scheduled presidential appearances in Idaho and South Carolina — two of the four remaining states — followed by Utah. Obama arrived here late Thursday to talk about jobs and the economy on Friday.
South Dakota now has the distinction of being the only state still awaiting a presidential visit by Obama. With 21 months left in his term, the president has plenty of time to get there.
Obama appeared at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden on Friday to announce new steps to support military veterans by training them for solar industry jobs. Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall said adjusting to civilian life after military service is a particularly vulnerable time for veterans, many of whom say finding employment is the biggest challenge they face.
The departments of Energy and Defense are starting a program at 10 military bases nationwide, including Hill Air Force Base, to teach service members who are transitioning out of the military how to install solar panels.
The Energy Department also has committed to training 75,000 people, including veterans, for solar industry jobs by 2020. That’s updated from a goal of 50,000 workers the department had announced in May 2014.
Republican political strategist Kevin Madden said a president’s travel schedule is often dictated by political pressures, whether it is the need to build support for an agenda in more heavily populated states or to tend to important electoral battlegrounds, like Ohio, where Obama appeared last month to lash out at Republican spending priorities.
“That means some of the other states just don’t see as much presidential travel,” Madden said in an email. “When those pressures wane, presidents in their last two years start to make it a priority to get to those states before their term is up.”
He noted that President Bill Clinton did not get to Nebraska, his 50th state, until the final few months of his presidency.
Whenever he does get to South Dakota, Obama will become the fourth president to hit all 50 states, according to the White House Historical Association.
Richard Nixon was first, followed by George H.W. Bush and Clinton.
Ronald Reagan came up four states short of the goal.
George W. Bush never made it to Vermont.