WAKARUSA, Indiana - WAKARUSA, Indiana (AP) — Promising new jobs and money, President Barack Obama on Wednesday told a hurting Midwestern region that its recovery will be like that of the rest of the U.S.: tough but certain.
Obama's quick return to a northern Indiana area mired in unemployment reflected political reality. People appreciate hope and the presence of the president, but they want jobs. So Obama came bearing all of those in what amounted to a national economic pep talk.
At stake for him is the kind of leverage that could influence his success on related matters, mainly health care legislation, as the battle for public opinion heats up during the August congressional recess.
"Even in the hardest times, against the toughest odds, we have never surrendered," Obama told a crowd on the steamy factory floor of Monaco RV, whose previous owner went bankrupt. "We don't give up. We don't surrender our fates to chance. We have always endured."
The loudest applause though, came when Obama announced that recreational vehicle company's new owner, Navistar International Corp., had won a $39 million grant to build 400 battery-electric trucks. That means work in a region crushed by the recession, where unemployment has jumped so high so fast that Obama called it "astonishing."
Obama tried to remind people, including Republican critics, that some of the stimulus money was always designed for longer-range infrastructure and energy projects to rebuild the economy.
That tied into his news nugget of the day: the awarding of $2.4 billion in grants toward the production of electric and hybrid cars, part of the stimulus plan. Obama delivered the news in the border region of Indiana and Michigan — the two states benefiting the most.
He dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to Michigan and other Cabinet emissaries to North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Florida to help spread the news and the wealth. All of those states, including Indiana where Obama was, are pivotal electoral states.
Obama relied heavily on a made-in-America message that played well to his crowd.
"You know, just a few months ago, folks thought that these factories might be closed for good," Obama said. "But now they're coming back to life."
Indiana's Elkhart-Goshen area had an unemployment rate of 16.8 percent in June. That's up 10 percentage points from last year. Obama was in Elkhart, just north of Wakarusa, in February when he made a similar get-out-of-Washington stop to lobby for the stimulus.
In an interview on Wednesday, Obama said it was fair for his presidency's economic performance to be judged on Elkhart's.
"Our whole goal is to first of all rescue the economy from the brink," he told MSNBC television. "But the most important thing we're going to have to do is help Elkhart reinvent itself."