UPDATE: President leaves Portland, headed for Seattle
Gun-control demonstrators greet Obama in Oregon
Originally published July 24, 2012 at 5:17 p.m., updated July 24, 2012 at 2:29 p.m.
PORTLAND (AP) — Advocates demanding tougher gun-control laws were among several dozen demonstrators who greeted President Barack Obama outside a fundraising stop in Oregon on Tuesday.
In the wake of a mass shooting that killed 12 and injured 58 others in Aurora, Colo., last week, demonstrators said Obama needs to stand up to the deep-pocketed National Rifle Association. They want him to push Congress to reinstate an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that expired in 2004.
“He hasn’t been aggressive about promoting change in the culture of violence,” said DeEtte Waleed of Portland, who added that she’ll nonetheless vote for him because “the alternative is just too scary to contemplate.”
Protesters were kept far back from the entrance to the Oregon Convention Center, where the president was scheduled to hold a fundraiser Tuesday afternoon for his re-election campaign. His motorcade did not pass them.
Penny Okamoto, director of the gun-control group Cease Fire Oregon, noted that some of the victims in Aurora were killed or wounded while trying to protect others.
“We need Obama, Romney, to be just as brave and stand up to the NRA,” Okamoto said.
“Their kind words, their platitudes — that’s nice, but we need action. We need leadership,” she said.
Several dozen demonstrators pushed other issues, too, most of them liberal causes. Some protested punitive marijuana laws, others the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists or plans to export coal through Northwest ports for use in Asia.
Obama’s plane touched down about 11:30 a.m. at the base for the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard. He left shortly after 5 p.m. for Seattle, where he’s scheduled to stay the night and hold more fundraisers on Wednesday.
Among a few dozen supporters awaiting Obama at the airport was his brother-in-law, Oregon State basketball coach Craig Robinson, who got a presidential hug.
On his way to the convention center, the president stopped at a Portland diner and ate a grilled cheese sandwich and split pea and ham soup. Tim King, a server at Gateway Breakfast House, said the restaurant offered Obama lunch on the house, but Obama insisted on paying.
Firing up contributors, Obama slammed rival Mitt Romney’s economic plan, saying the former Massachusetts governor would promote failed policies and cut taxes on the rich. The president pledged to raise taxes on the wealthy and spend money on infrastructure projects.
“I want to take half of the money that we’re saving on war, and let’s put people back to work, a whole bunch of hard hats out there rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our schools,” Obama said.
Romney and his allies have hammered Obama for days over a comment that they say suggests the president doesn’t believe entrepreneurs are responsible for their own success.
Obama pushed back, telling his Portland audience that his rival is taking his comment way out of context. Speaking in Virginia this month, Obama was trying to make the point that individual success is aided by supportive teachers, government-funded research and public infrastructure.
“We did not build this country alone, we did it together,” Obama said. “If Mr. Romney doesn’t understand that, then he doesn’t understand what it takes to grow this economy in the 21st century.”
Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon’s only Republican member of Congress, said Obama wants to create jobs by spending government money. He said Romney’s experience as head of a private equity firm makes him better prepared.
“The president’s not a bad guy,” Walden said. “It’s just that his policies, after three and a half years, haven’t worked.”
Visiting a liberal city with a penchant for putting on big rallies for Democratic presidential candidates, Obama kept it small this time. He limited his appearances during a nearly six-hour stay to two events for paid supporters.
He didn’t try to match the crowd estimated at 75,000 that he drew to the banks of the Willamette River as a contender for the Democratic nomination in 2008. He’s didn’t even try to pack 8,000 fans into the convention center, like he did two years ago in a bid to boost turnout for John Kitzhaber’s ultimately successful bid for governor.
The Obama campaign had planned to hold a large public rally in Portland, but officials scrapped the rally after the Colorado shooting, in part because they felt the tone of a large partisan event would be inappropriate.
“There’s a different energy and enthusiasm to that type of event,” said Jen Psaki, Obama’s campaign spokeswoman. “We felt it’s an appropriate step given the tragedy in Colorado.
In addition, Psaki said the campaign needed to divert resources from Portland to Colorado in order to facilitate Obama’s hastily arranged visit to Aurora on Sunday to meet with the families of the shooting victims.
Romney has made three fundraising trips to Portland in the past year.