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WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's hard to find anyone who thinks President Barack Obama's series of heavily promoted economic speeches will be the flash point that unclogs the system in Washington - including the president.
A day after he kicked off the tour in Illinois and Missouri, Obama was traveling Thursday to a seaport in Jacksonville to yet again deride the wide gulf between his vision for a new American prosperity driven by a burgeoning middle class and the intense gridlock snarling up Congress.
"With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball," Obama said Wednesday in Galesburg, Ill. "And I am here to say this needs to stop."
But even Obama knows little will change unless pressure from Americans refocuses the conversation.
In northeast Florida, Obama and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx were to tour the Jacksonville Port Authority, giving the president a chance to focus on what he says is a critical need to reinvest in American infrastructure to enable future economic growth. The president will promote the need to speed up projects by expediting permitting and cutting red tape in line with an executive order he signed. The port's terminal plans to expand its rail yard and container facility under a project enabled by that program, the White House said.
The visit also marks Obama's first to the state since the acquittal of the man charged in the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The case has generated a painful, nationwide debate about racial prejudice. Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Florida planned to greet Obama with a full-page ad in the local newspaper claiming it is Obama, not Republicans, who has taken his eye off the economy.
Although Obama is offering little in the way of new policies or fresh solutions, his advisers couched the speeches as a concerted effort to put a spotlight on the economy after a six-month stretch that's been dominated by issues like gun control and immigration, as well as foreign policy crises and domestic controversies.
Republicans panned the president's remarks Wednesday as a series of repackaged ideas and empty promises.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called it "a colossal waste of time" that "generates little more than a collective, bipartisan eye roll." GOP House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman, Brendan Buck, chimed in: "Summary of the president's speech: `I'm going to give more speeches.'"
The broad economic themes Obama planned to illustrate Thursday will be followed up in the coming weeks by another series of speeches drilling down on key sectors such as manufacturing, education, housing, retirement security and health care. Advisers say some of those speeches will contain more specific policy proposals, both for legislation and executive action Obama can take without congressional approval.