But this year, in a White House contest defined by the economy and job creation, that harsh truth-telling has given way to a more hopeful pitch from Obama and the Republicans trying to replace him amid the strongest uptick in manufacturing employment in 15 years.
“Manufacturing is coming back. Companies are bringing jobs back,” Obama told a crowd of employees on a factory floor in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are focusing on manufacturing this week ahead of primaries in Michigan on Feb. 28 and Ohio a week later that will be crucial in determining the winner of the GOP nomination and the fall general election.
The renewed emphasis on the sector sets up a debate between the two parties that will play out across the Midwest this year in several of the nation’s most hotly contested states. Obama has worked closely with labor unions on bailing out the auto industry, and he describes organized labor as an important force that helps workers earn higher wages. That stance puts him at odds with GOP candidates who favor laws that ban union-only plants.
That fissure was clear on Wednesday, when Obama and Romney both used industrial backdrops to deliver their messages.
At an office furniture warehouse in Grand Rapids, Romney blasted Obama and the “union bosses” who back him. “Crony capitalism, that’s the path he’s taken,” Romney said. “He got hundreds of millions from labor bosses for his campaign.”
Obama took a brief tour of Master Lock, a Milwaukee padlock maker that he praised during his State of the Union address last month for being a “unionized plant” and for bringing 100 jobs back from China as that country’s labor costs rose.
Obama reminded the Master Lock workers that the auto industry has begun to grow again after his administration extended emergency loans in 2009 that helped keep General Motors and Chrysler in business. Both firms are now adding jobs.
“What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries,” Obama said. “It can happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh and Milwaukee. That’s what we’ve got to be shooting for, to create opportunities for hard-working Americans to start making stuff again and selling it around the world.”
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum will speak to the Detroit Economic Club on Thursday. He is also expected to deliver a jobs message focused on his ideas to revitalize the nation’s manufacturing sector.
Santorum’s plans call for zeroing out the corporate income tax on manufacturers and limiting the tax on overseas profits reinvested in the United States.