After jobs-focused speech, Obama tours Wisconsin factories

President Barack Obama is calling for Americans to focus on making smarter and more innovative products than anyone else or risk falling behind.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 26, 2011; 4:15 PM

MANITOWOC, WIS. - President Obama took his State of the Union message on the road Wednesday, declaring that America must "play to win the future" in a global competition for leadership on clean energy.

Launching the second half of his term in Wisconsin, a state he won easily in 2008 but saw shift sharply to the GOP in the 2010 congressional elections, Obama toured Orion Energy Systems, a power technology company, and renewed his pitch for greater U.S. competitiveness in the global economy.

"In this new and challenging time, when America is facing tougher competition from countries around the world than ever before, we've got to up our game," he said. "We're going to need to go all in. We're going to need to get serious about winning the future."

The trip was the first of many stops Obama is planning over the next month aimed at enlisting the public to push Congress for adoption of his ideas on education, innovation and other issues, administration officials said.

But Obama's visit to the Badger State had another purpose beyond generating support for his ideas in Congress.

He won Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008. But his approval rating in the state plunged well below 50 percent before Election Day 2010, helping lead to an electoral wipeout in Wisconsin in which Republicans won control of both houses of the state's legislature, the governorship, two U.S. House seats and a U.S. Senate seat.

Polls have shown a recent surge for Obama nationally, but he must recover his popularity in Midwestern states such as Iowa and Indiana - both of which saw major GOP gains in 2010 - in order to win a second White House term in 2012.

In a news conference in Washington on Wednesday, Wisconsin's new tea party-backed GOP senator, Ronald H. Johnson, raised the issues that led to the Republican victory, charging that "we are bankrupting this nation" and criticizing Obama's State of the Union speech.

"When President Obama mentions investment," Johnson said, "I'm afraid he means . . . government spending and government control."

The new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, who is also from Wisconsin, was equally dismissive. "Rhetoric alone will not eliminate the job-crushing deficits and the record unemployment that continue to hold back economic recovery," he said.

In his speech here, Obama reiterated the goals he set in Tuesday night's speech of having 80 percent of America's electricity come from clean-energy sources by 2035 and putting 1 million electric vehicles on the nation's roads by 2015.

"We need to get behind clean-energy companies like Orion. We need to get behind innovation," he told assembled employees on the factory floor. "That's how America will lead the world in clean energy."

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