From NBC's Athena Jones
FT. MADISON, IA -- President Obama today kicked off a two-day, multi-stop trip to the Midwest with a tour of a wind turbine plant just across the Illinois border here, saying he wanted to talk with locals about the financial pain towns like this one are feeling but also about their economic potential.
Obama chose the Siemens Wind Turbine Blade Manufacturing Plant to highlight clean energy, which has long been a central part of his economic agenda. The plant employs 600, and it supports 350 other jobs in Lee County -- an area where unemployment is hovering at around 11%.
"Lately, we've been able to report some welcome news after a hard two years -- our economy is growing, our markets are climbing, our businesses are beginning to create jobs again. " he told the crowd. "The recovery isn't reaching everyone just yet. Times are still tough in towns like Fort Madison and times, are still tough for middle-class Americans, who had been swimming against the current for years before this economic tidal wave hit."
This trip back to the state where it all began for a one-time, long-shot presidential candidate is part of an effort to show the president understands the problems facing ordinary Americans who are still struggling as the economic recovery slowly takes hold. It's also an attempt to help shore up support for the Democratic president here in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, as the party prepares for a tough midterm election in the fall.
The president talked about his plan to rebuild the U.S. economy on a stronger foundation by overhauling the health-care system, improving schools, and updating the rules governing Wall Street. But today's focus was on clean energy, an industry Obama believes will be central to America's ability to compete in the 21st century global economy.
Republican critics have argued the president has not focused enough of job creation. In selling his administration's recovery efforts, Obama noted that the stimulus made "the largest investment in clean energy in our nation's history."
"That investment was part of the Recovery Act, and this facility took advantage of that act's Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit -- which allowed you to add equipment, boost output, and hire new workers right here in Fort Madison."
Calling wind power a key part of a comprehensive strategy to end America's dependence on foreign oil, Obama said he believed Congress would pass an energy and climate bill that would create more jobs in towns like this one.
The president holds a town hall in Ottumwa, IA later today. And on Wednesday, he visits a bio-refining company in Macon, MO; a farm in Palmyra, MO; and then speaks in Quincy, IL, where he is expected to emphasize the need to overhaul financial market regulations.
*** UPDATE, per NBC's Jenna Pfeffer *** In a conference call sponsored by the Republican National Committee, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said he appreciated President Obama's visit to Iowa today. But Strawn bashed the president's economic policies.
"Unemployment has continued to rise, and Iowans want to get back to work," Strawn said on the call.
Strawn urged the administration to work on "creating an environment that incentivizes job creation" and providing access to capital, instead of recklessly increasing federal spending. He asserted that Congressional overspending will just lead to a spike in interest rates, as well as that the administration's policies are just inhibiting small businesses from innovating and expanding.
Finally, Strawn ended the call by reaffirming the common GOP concern that the Obama administration is "piling debt" onto future generations of Americans because of out-of-control spending.