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Analysis: Obama uses White House podium to press for re-election

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It might be difficult to upstage Republican presidential candidates on the most important day of their primary election, but President Barack Obama tried to do just that on Tuesday.

Holding a news conference for the first time in months, Obama took advantage of the White House podium and national television coverage to outline his arguments for re-election just as his rivals battled it out in Super Tuesday states.

The president touched on immigration, women's rights, gasoline prices and foreign policy, subtly and not so subtly digging at his Republican rivals on each of the issues.

Here is a look at what Obama tried to achieve politically during his roughly 45-minute chat with the press:

1) Spotting weakness.

Obama sees weakness in Mitt Romney and wants to exploit it. When asked to comment on Romney's criticism that Obama was "feckless," the president had a smile and a simple message for the former Massachusetts governor: "Good luck tonight."

His comment drew laughter from reporters, but the not-really-tongue-in-cheek response underlined the fact that Romney is fighting a close race with former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum to win Ohio, a major battleground state and the biggest prize in the Super Tuesday contests.

Obama won Ohio over Republican John McCain in the 2008 general election.

The president's quip highlighted the former Massachusetts governor's political predicament and seemed to suggest, in three words, that if Romney does become the Republican nominee, Obama will be happy to take him on.

In truth, while the Obama campaign thinks Romney is likely to be the eventual nominee, it would prefer to run against Santorum, seeing him as having less appeal to the political center.

2) Targeting key interest groups.

The president managed to reach out to several key political constituencies in the course of his news conference, including Latino voters, a group that could swing important battleground states in his favor.

He promised to put together a framework for accomplishing immigration reform, a top issue for Hispanics.

But he put the blame for not getting that done in his first term on Republicans, and encouraged Latino voters to vote for lawmakers (read: Democrats) who would help him follow through on that promise if he gets a second four-year slot in the White House.

3) Taking the high road - with an edge.

Radio host Rush Limbaugh has dominated headlines in recent days for using crude language to describe a Georgetown University student who testified on Capitol Hill about contraception.

Asked whether he believed Limbaugh's subsequent apology was sufficient and sincere, Obama demurred.

"I don't know what's in Rush Limbaugh's heart, so I'm not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology," he said. "What I can comment on is the fact that all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don't have any place in the public discourse."

Obama cited his own daughters, saying he hoped they would stand up for their convictions too.

The result: the president took the high road but did so with bite, aiming his remarks at women voters and "family values" proponents in both political parties.

4) Calling bluffs.

Obama spent most of his news conference answering questions about Israel and Iran. He challenged his Republican rivals, who have criticized him sharply over his policy toward Israel, to come out and tell the American public if they wanted the United States to go to war over Iran's nuclear program.

By suggesting his opponents were bluffing, and emphasizing the human costs of war that he must weigh as president, Obama highlighted his own foreign policy experience and appealed to a public that is not eager for further armed conflict after U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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