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Oct 2, 9:26 AM EDT

Obama steps away from global crises to talk jobs


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CHICAGO (AP) -- While Washington's attention was focused on a Secret Service scandal, President Barack Obama slipped away for an overnight trip to his family home in Chicago and a speech Thursday to assure voters he is still focused on the economy.

Obama is delivering his afternoon economic address at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, just a short hop from Chicago by helicopter. The White House has long planned the speech as a way to frame the closing arguments of a midterm campaign with control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance.

WHY ANOTHER ECONOMIC SPEECH?

The president has spent weeks consumed with international crises and wants to let voters know he hasn't forgotten about their money struggles. "I can put my record against any leader around the world in terms of digging ourselves out of a terrible, almost unprecedented financial crisis," Obama said in an interview that aired Sunday on "60 Minutes." An Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday found that the economy is the top issue for the Americans most likely to cast ballots in the midterm elections. Nine out of 10 consider it extremely or very important in deciding their votes for Congress. They have just one month to make up their minds, and Obama plans to speak out more during that time on pocketbook concerns, including a jobs speech Friday in Indiana.

WILL HE SAY ANYTHING NEW?

Obama's challenge is to walk a delicate line between taking credit for an economic recovery without seeming to disregard continuing hard times. His aides say this speech isn't designed to lay out new policy ideas, but to explain what he's done to help the nation recover from the Great Recession. He also plans to acknowledge the reality that many Americans aren't feeling the recovery and argue that more needs to be done. His aides say he intends to be more presidential than partisan.

WHY NORTHWESTERN?

Home court advantage. The former Illinois senator can't go just anywhere these days, with Democratic candidates avoiding the spotlight with the divisive president. Obama aides also thought a scholarly business school audience would be the ideal setting for an address scheduled to last about 45 minutes and dive deeper into the economic issues than a typical campaign speech. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama will be speaking to the "students who will have a hand in shaping America's economic future and leadership both at home and abroad."

HOW IS THE ECONOMY DOING?

Many important indicators are good - unemployment has been going down, consumer spending is up and housing prices are rising. The stock market hit records in the past month, then softened in recent days. A big sign will be the jobs report coming out Friday. But although some of the figures look good, they aren't helping family budgets. "They don't feel it because incomes and wages are not going up," Obama said on "60 Minutes." He argued that Democratic priorities like raising the minimum wage, job training and road building will help. It's yet to be seen if voters agree.

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Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler

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