Obama heads to Pennsylvania for 8th time this year

President Barack Obama greets people at Wiggins Airport in Manchester, N.H., on Nov. 22, 2011. President Obama will travel to Manchester High School Central to discuss the American Jobs Act.
AP Photo/Cheryl Senter
President Obama greets people at Wiggins Airport in Manchester, N.H., Nov. 22, 2011.
AP/Cheryl Senter

It'll be President Obama's 16th trip to Pennsylvania since taking office as he arrives in Scranton this afternoon for another speech on his call to extend and enlarge payroll tax cuts next year.

The frequency of his visits to Pennsylvania - 8 times this year alone - reflects the importance of the state in Mr. Obama's strategy for re-election.

But the White House insists today's visit is "official" and not campaign-related. By making that assertion, the White House need not have the president's campaign or political party bear any of the costs of his travel to the state, small though they may be.

The same was true of President Obama's visit last week to Manchester, N.H., where he also pressed Congress to quickly pass his plan to extend payroll tax cuts. Mr. Obama won New Hampshire in 2008 and wants it in his win column against next year.

Since filing with the Federal Election Commission on April 4th as a candidate for a second term, the president has made 39 domestic trips to 27 states, several more than once. The White House says the only political speeches Mr. Obama delivered were at campaign fundraising events.

When Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich or any of the other Republican presidential candidates give a policy speech, their campaign pays the costs. But FEC rules say the White House can declare for itself whether a presidential trip is political and costs to the government need not be reimbursed by the incumbent's campaign or political party.

Like Mr. Obama, his predecessors have taken advantage of the FEC rules in their bids for re-election as well.

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"Every President ought to be able to travel everywhere in the country," says White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. "It's part of his responsibility, serving the American people, to get out and be among them and to speak with them about his agenda or her agenda. This president will continue to do that."

But Carney's assertion sidesteps the question of whether a presidential visit has political objectives and should be paid for in part by the Obama Campaign or Democratic National Committee.

Our CBS News tally shows that since the beginning of this year, Mr. Obama has made 39 visits to 12 so-called "battleground states," where he will have to wage an intensive campaign to win.

The states deemed as battlegrounds by CBS News include Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

The only occasions so far this year on which the White House has designated the trips as political are those that included campaign fund-raisers for Mr. Obama's re-election.

So his trip to Scranton this afternoon is official, says the White House. It's a claim that cannot be made later in the day when he travels to New York City to attend 3 fund-raisers for his re-election campaign and the Democratic Party.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.