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Analysis: As president and candidate, Obama commands his say on a big day for his rivals
WASHINGTON (AP) ' I'm the president. You're not.
With that stance, President Barack Obama did more than try to inject himself into Super Tuesday, the biggest Republican voting day so far. He tried to own it.
Putting the power of incumbency on display, Obama used his first news conference of the year to admonish his Republican rivals, most bitingly by accusing them of being casual about war and American lives.
While the candidates are "popping off" about war with Iran, Obama said he is the one who absorbs the costs of troops wounded or killed in battle.
"Those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities," Obama said of the Republicans campaigning for his job. "They're not commander in chief."
And so it went, topic by topic, throughout a scene that the White House tried to suggest was not about stealing some attention from Republicans. Obama officials insisted it was just a good day to get the president out for a full questioning for the first time since a sunset news conference in Hawaii back in November.
Eager to remain the president and not the candidate, Obama often says there will be a time for politics this year. Yes, like now.
It came up right away, of course, that voters in 10 states were going to the polls to help pick his November competitor.
Because Obama brought it up.
"I understand there are some political contests going on tonight," he said with a wry grin upon entering the White House briefing room.
There are days when Obama waves off re-election questions as premature. This was not one of them.
' Obama led off by offering ideas to help struggling homeowners, and finished his thought by saying: "I'm not one of those people who believe that we should sit by and wait for the housing market to hit bottom." That was a direct shot at presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his comments on the foreclosure crisis.
' Obama, in fielding questions about keeping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, hardened his position in intensely domestic political terms. He called out Republicans for making big threats and "beating the drums of war." He scoffed at them for ultimately, in his view, spelling out a playbook for Iran that mirrors his.
"If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be," Obama said. "Everything else is just talk."
He offered himself as the one who thinks through war, not the one who rushes the nation into a mistake. The implication about his competitors was clear.
' Obama was pressed on whether he actually wants higher gasoline prices as a way to promote alternative fuels, a charge made by Newt Gingrich, one of the Republican presidential candidates. Obama jumped in to offer his political analysis on that one.
"Do you think the president of the United States, going into re-election, wants gas prices to go up higher?" Obama said. "Is there anybody who thinks that makes a lot of sense? I want gas prices lower because they hurt families."
' Obama positioned himself as a voice of civility and ' to a nation of voting parents ' maturity in the debate over whether health insurance plans should cover contraception. He said he called Sandra Fluke, the woman called a "slut" by radio host Rush Limbaugh, with his own two young daughters in mind. There's a way to debate, Obama said, that doesn't involve being demeaned.
It wasn't long before another reporter had him talking about the race for the women's vote in general.
"I believe that Democrats have a better story to tell women," Obama said. He then repeated his re-election pitch about fairness for the middle class.
' Obama, confident all the while, looked like the guy who cannot wait to get into a one-on-one fight with a Republican nominee. He has expected it to be Romney all along.
When asked what he had to say to Romney, who has accused him of being feckless, a smiling Obama said: "Good luck tonight."
The president ended the news conference on his terms, with more reminders of his incumbent powers.
Yes, he's eager to bring the leaders of the G-8 nations to the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland. And, yes, as commander in chief, he knows there will be troubles as the American-led war in Afghanistan winds down, just as there were in Iraq.
"None of this stuff is ever easy," Obama said. "It never has been."
Before long, the attention shifted back to the Republicans and their big night. But Obama had succeeded in dominating much of the news cycle.
On Wednesday, he's off to promote his agenda in Charlotte, N.C. That just happens to be the site of this summer's Democratic National Convention.
White House Correspondent Ben Feller has covered the Obama and Bush presidencies for The Associated Press.