President Obama heads for North Carolina on Wednesday, a state whose Republican governor seems to have swiped the president's feel-good message on the economy out from under him before he's even been able—or willing—to use it.
With Obama set to offer another sober dose of reality in a speech about how the recovery has fallen short, Gov. Pat McCrory has been declaring a "great Carolina comeback" due—naturally—to GOP policies, not anything out of the White House.
And yet, there's still no sign from the administration that the president is prepared to strike a sunnier tone on the economy. Aides say that instead, the president, in advance of his State of the Union address, will continue to hammer away on job creation, investment, and education initiatives to show that he's working to improve conditions for the middle class and other struggling sectors nationwide.
If that means Obama is curbing economic enthusiasm, so be it because the White House just does not believe it has a full story—complete with a happy ending—to tell yet.
Down in North Carolina, on the other hand, McCrory has been given a good set of numbers and is running with them without hesitation. In the space of six months, the state's unemployment rate dropped from 8.9 percent in the summer to 7.4 percent in December. That's had McCrory, in office since only 2012, crowing.
His willingness to go bullish when the president won't illustrates how eager the GOP, both on the state and national level, will be to claim credit for the economic recovery at Obama's expense—and underscores the risk for the administration if it dwells too much on the pain, rather than the gain.
Obama, for the moment, is sticking to a much more cautious approach even though the national unemployment rate has fallen a full 3 percentage points since the worst of the recession in 2009. "We are not where we need to be," press secretary Jay Carney reiterated Tuesday.
Expect more of the same Wednesday, when Obama touts a public-private partnership designed to spur growth in the manufacturing sector, aides say.
Where's all this Republican economic pride coming from? North Carolina has transformed since Obama made history by winning it during his first campaign. Beyond the governor's mansion, Republicans hold houses of the Legislature in numbers great enough to allow them this summer to ram through an aggressively conservative agenda—cutting income and corporate taxes, privatizing economic development, rolling back unemployment benefits, slashing teacher pay, and rejecting the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion.
That's led McCrory to credit GOP policies for the state's rebound, dismissing the administration's efforts.
And for now at least, the White House seems content to let him do it. Aides say the president is not expected to engage McCrory or his remarks at all Wednesday.
Brad Miller, the former Democratic congressman from the region, says Obama is taking the right tack, but concedes "a lot of this is confidence. Being gloomy doesn't help things."