U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan always bristles at the political side of his cabinet secretary gig. He says that K-12 education is a bipartisan issue and that he wants to work with both sides of the aisle to get things done for kids.
But, fresh off his attack on Texas governor (and current Republican presidential frontrunner) Rick Perry’s K-12 record, Duncan is boarding a bus and traveling to the “Great Lakes region” —home to the electorally important swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The education secretary will talk up the importance of education in the overall economy, as President Barack Obama prepares to unveil his job creation agenda in a speech Thursday night. Full schedule for the bus-tour is here.
First stop for Duncan is Pittsburgh, where he’ll chat with local labor leaders about the importance of collaboration. This has been a recurring theme for the Obama administration, but it also can’t hurt to get some face time with union folks, who are often vital to Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, particularily in swing states like Pennsylvania.
It’s important to remember, also, that teachers’ unions haven’t been too enthusiastic about the Obama administration’s education agenda, even though the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, has already signaled support for Obama. It’s unlikely they’ll hit the streets for his GOP opponent (whoever that may be), but it’ll be nearly as bad for the president and his Democratic allies in Congress if they stay home and sit on their hands.
Duncan also will head to Erie, Pa., where he’ll talk up the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund. U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., who is up for reelection in 2012 in this critical Purple state, will be joining via Skype. Early-childhood education has been a signature issue for Casey.
Next, the secretary will head to Ohio, another swing state, where he’ll meet with even more union folks. Ohio is also home to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, another Democrat up for reelection next year.
Duncan then heads to (Purple) Michigan, where he’ll meet with education leaders and also visit the University of Michigan School of Education. (Education schools often work closely with unions.) And, you guessed it, Michigan also will host another important Senate contest—U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, is defending her seat.
Then Duncan will go to Indiana, typically a Red state, which Obama won in 2008. Indiana is hosting a race for an open Senate seat this year. Duncan will speak at the One Region, One Vision committee’s annual meeting. The meeting is co-hosted by the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council, an organization made up of local business and community leaders. Duncan will talk about the need to ensure that both the private and public sectors play a role in improving education.
Next up is Wisconsin, another swing state and home to another open Senate race in 2012. Duncan will be visiting the Milwaukee Career and Technical Education school, which got federal school improvement money.
The second-to-last stop is the secretary’s home town of Chicago. And, no, Illinois doesn’t have a hot Senate race. And it isn’t a swing state. It’s the lone exception.
But Duncan will finish out in yet another Purple state—Virginia—which is expected to host a barnburner of a Senate race in 2012, between George Allen, a Republican former Senator and governor, and Tim Kaine, a former Democratic governor and close Obama ally. Duncan will head to Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, on Sept. 11 to talk to educators about how they coped with the 9/11 and its aftermath.
It’s not new for an education secretary to hit the non-campaign trail at opportune moments. Duncan’s predecessor Margaret Spellings, just happened to show up in swing districts bearing big checks for Teacher Incentive Fund grants in the weeks leading up to the 2006 midterm election. (It didn’t help, Republicans lost big in congressional races anyway.)