By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2011; 8:09 PM
MANITOWOC, WIS. - President Obama took his State of the Union message on the road Wednesday afternoon in a state he won easily in 2008 but one that shifted sharply to the GOP in the 2010 midterm elections.
"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 on the factory floor at Orion Energy Systems, a high-efficiency-lighting company based here. "We're going to need to go all in. We're going to need to get serious about winning the future."
Obama's stop at Orion was the first of three he made at companies in this Eastern Wisconsin town of about 34,000. He is the first sitting president to visit Manitowoc.
The companies were selected to illustrate the kind of economic development Obama called for in Tuesday's hour-long speech. Orion works with large companies to reduce their energy costs, while Tower Tech Systems makes wind-turbine towers. He also visited Skana Aluminum, an aluminum manufacturer and rolling mill.
"These aren't just good jobs that can help you pay the bills and support your families," the president said of Orion as he spoke to more than 200 people. "They're jobs that are good for all of us; that will make our energy bills cheaper; that will make our planet safer; that will sharpen America's competitive edge in the world."
Administration officials said the trip was the first of many stops Obama is planning to make over the next month to urge the public to push Congress to adopt his ideas.
The visit is not unusual; presidents frequently take campaign-style trips after giving a State of the Union address. But Obama's visit to the Badger State has another purpose as well.
He won Wisconsin by 14 percentage points in 2008. But his approval rating dropped below 50 percent before Election Day 2010. Republicans won control of both houses of the state legislature, the governorship, two U.S. House seats and a U.S. Senate seat.
Polls have shown a recent increase in support for Obama nationally, but he must recover his popularity in Midwestern states such as Iowa and Indiana - where Republicans had major gains in 2010 - to win a second term in 2012.
Obama seemed to find one issue that unifies everyone in Wisconsin: the Green Bay Packers, who defeated Obama's favorite NFL team, the Chicago Bears, on Sunday and will now advance to the Super Bowl.
Immediately after Air Force One landed in Wisconsin, the president was greeted by the mayor of Green Bay and the governor, both of whom presented him with Packers jerseys.
"Let me start by saying something: I am not here because I lost a bet," he said. "I just want to be clear about that. I have already gotten three Green Bay jerseys. I've only been on the ground for an hour."