President speaks at Scranton college

SCRANTON (AP) – President Barack Obama’s motorcade made its way into Pennsylvania ahead of his Friday evening visit to Scranton, where the Democrat will deliver a speech on his plan for college affordability in one of the nation’s biggest college states.

The visit to Lackawanna College is Obama’s first to Pennsylvania since he won the state on his way to a second term and it ends a two-day bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania as he works to shape the September debate in Congress over the budget.

At a stop off Interstate 81 at Bingham’s Restaurant in Lenox, owner David Scarpetta greeted Obama, who was accompanied by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

“I heard you’ve got good pie,” Obama said. “That’s the word on the street.”

Scarpetta recommended a coconut creme pie to Obama, and later said he had been told that that was the president’s favorite kind. After excusing himself to greet restaurant patrons, Obama pointed to Casey and told Scarpetta, “Don’t let him pay.”

Two patrons said they had decided against going to downtown Scranton to see the president because of a lack of parking, and then coincidentally bumped into him at the restaurant, according to a White House pool report.

“He was very, very personable,” Joe Capalongo, 60, said. “He’s not rushed. He takes his time and talks to everybody in a personal way. He asked, ‘How you doing? What’s your name? Where you from?’ Things like that.”

Scranton is friendly to Obama – he won big there last November – and he’ll appear with two Scranton natives, Casey, a Democrat, and Vice President Joe Biden.

But if Obama is trying to apply pressure to Republicans he’s come to a good state: Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation is heavily Republican, 14-6, in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans four to three.

The White House bills the visit as part of Obama’s efforts to boost the middle class, and the latest in a series of speeches he’s delivering around the country.

Earlier Friday, Obama touted his plan to tie federal financial aid to schools’ affordability and performance in an appearance in Binghamton, N.Y., telling the crowd that higher education has never been more important to getting a good job, or expensive.

He is arriving at a time when one recent poll showed Pennsylvanians are closely divided over his job performance.

For their part, Pennsylvania Republicans issued various fundraising appeals around Obama’s visit and are trying to pick away at his message by focusing on what they call his various scandals and failures.