Obama talks science, 'Sputnik moment' during N.C. visit

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverDecember 7, 2010 

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — President Barack Obama downplayed politics Monday, emphasizing the need for Republicans and Democrats to work together and tested out talking points for his re-election campaign.

"I believe right now there are bigger issues at stake for our country than politics," Obama told a small gathering at Forsyth Technical Community College. "These issues call on us to respond not as partisans but as Americans."

Obama warned of a new "Sputnik moment," and said the United States is in danger of being left behind in the sciences and technology just as the Russians had bypassed America in the space race in the 1950s. He urged Democrats and Republicans to put aside their partisan wrangling and focus on preparing the country for foreign economic competition from such countries as China, Korea and India.

This was Obama's first visit to North Carolina since the Democrats took a drubbing in the midterm elections. And it's an indication that he plans to mount another major campaign effort in North Carolina in 2012. Obama was the first Democrat to carry the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

"He could have gone to a lot of places to make his point," Winston-Salem Alderman Dan Besse said.

But Obama also tried to give the event a nonpolitical flavor, with Republican Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem flying down with him on board Air Force One, along with Democratic Rep. Brad Miller of Raleigh. Among those who greeted the president were Democratic Gov Bev. Perdue, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro and Democratic Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte.

Obama chose Forsyth Tech to unveil a theme aides say he will emphasize in 2011: The United States must take steps to regain its economic edge in the world market.

Even in difficult budget times, Obama said, the country needs to invest in education and innovation.

He noted that when Forsyth Tech opened 50 years ago, it was an industrial center, focusing on machine shops and auto mechanics, and the state's economy was based largely on tobacco and textiles. But today there is fierce international competition, with the Internet allowing companies to set up anywhere.

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