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In Iowa, Obama pleads for patience with sluggish economy

June 28, 2011|By Peter Nicholas and Seema Mehta
(Kevin Lamarque\Reuters )

Reporting from Washington and Bettendorf, Iowa — President Obama asked for patience in reversing job losses that he said were a decade in the making, in a campaign-style appearance that sought to recall some of the excitement of his long-shot candidacy in 2008.

Returning to the state that set him on a path to the White House, Obama visited an Alcoa factory Tuesday to underscore the importance of advanced manufacturing in America’s economic recovery.

He cited strides made in rehiring manufacturing workers who had been laid off during the recession, part of about 2 million private sector jobs created in the last 15 months. But as he often does in such speeches, he conceded that the economic recovery hasn’t touched large swaths of the workforce.

Wearing a white shirt and tie -- no suit jacket in sight -- Obama said, “For a lot of Americans, those numbers don’t matter if they’re still out of work or if they have a job that doesn’t pay enough to pay the mortgage, to pay the bills. So we’ve got more work to do and that work is going to take some time. The problems that we developed didn’t happen overnight. We’re not going to solve them overnight either, but we will solve them.”

The Alcoa plant produces advanced aerospace and military parts, including the wings of Air Force One. It was chosen to highlight improvements in the manufacturing sector. The Bettendorf plant now employs 2,200 people -- more than before the recession kicked in.

Obama’s trip to Iowa coincided with a media sensation of another sort: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s appearance for the debut of a movie about her political career, “The Undefeated.’’

At the top of his speech, Obama mentioned the many Republicans who are crisscrossing Iowa in advance of the caucuses. Obama is all too familiar with that quadrennial ritual. In 2008 he focused his campaign resources in Iowa, piqued the voters’ interest, and sent the presumptive front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton to a third-place finish in the Democratic caucuses.

“Iowa, we go a long way back,’’ Obama said. “So we’ve got some history together and together we’re going to make more history in the years to come.’’

Much has changed since Obama’s triumph in the caucuses. Iowa is a swing state that Obama will be hard-pressed to hold in 2012. Since he took office, Iowa Republicans have eaten into the Democrats’ registration advantage and also picked up the governor’s seat and a majority of state Assembly seats.

When Obama was sworn in, Iowa had 111,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. This month, the Democratic registration advantage stood at 36,000.

The Eastern Iowa county that Obama visited illustrates the political perils. In 2008 Obama easily carried Scott County, the third-largest in the state. But in the midterm elections last year, county voters backed Republican Terry Branstad for governor with 51% of the vote.

“This is going to be a jobs election and it’s only going to become painfully obvious that the only job the president is interested in saving is his own,’’ Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning. “He’s in Iowa today because he’s interested in saving his job.’’

In the few hours he was on the ground, Obama looked to capture some of the flavor of the ’08 campaign.

He made an unannounced visit to a Bettendorf restaurant owned by a woman he had met at a town hall-style meeting in August 2008.

Cynthia Friedhof had told Obama about her calorie-rich meat-and-cheese concoctions. Obama promised to come visit. On Tuesday he made good on the pledge, to the delight of Friedhof and the lunch crowd.

“"How are you doing? We came to order some food," Obama said. He then held up a gargantuan cinnamon roll.

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