On a week when President Barack Obama put his rhetorical and policy focus on jobs and the economy, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan helped spread the administration’s message with a bus tour on education and the economy that just happened to crisscross electorally important swing states.
Mr. Duncan’s first stop was Pittsburgh, where he chatted Sept. 7 with local labor leaders about the importance of collaboration. This has been a recurring theme for the Obama administration. Still, unions are vital to Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, particularly in swing states such as Pennsylvania.
Mr. Duncan headed to Erie, Pa., later that day to tout the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund. U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., who is up for re-election in 2012 in this critical “purple” state, joined the discussion via Skype. Early-childhood education has been a signature issue for Mr. Casey.
And the secretary wrapped up the day in Ohio, another pivotal state, where he met with more local union officials. Ohio is also home to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, another Democrat up for re-election next year.
Mr. Duncan’s itinerary also included the purple states of Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin—all of which are hosting Senate contests in 2012.
The second-to-last stop was slated to be a Sept. 9 visit to the secretary’s hometown of Chicago. And, no, Illinois doesn’t have a hot Senate race, and it isn’t a swing state, the lone exception on his tour.
Mr. Duncan was scheduled to finish the trip with a Sept. 11 stop in yet another purple state—Virginia—which is expected to host a barn-burner of a Senate race in 2012, between George Allen, a Republican former senator and governor, and Tim Kaine, a Democratic former governor and close Obama ally. Mr. Duncan’s visit to Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, was scheduled to focus on a talk with educators about how they coped with the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath.
It’s not new for an education secretary to hit the noncampaign trail at opportune moments. Mr. 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 elections. (It didn’t help; Republicans lost big in congressional races anyway.)
A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2011 edition of Education Week as Duncan’s Bus Tour Visits Swing States