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On The Stump: Obama Roams Pivotal Swing States


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. President Obama is back in Washington, D.C. today after visiting five different states, all of which are likely to be hotly contested in the November presidential election. The trip was a chance for Mr. Obama to expand on some of the ideas that he outlined in Tuesday's State of the Union address. The president also offered a kind of preview of his campaign themes in the general election once Republicans choose their nominee. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama had a lot to smile about this week. A prime-time TV audience for his State of the Union speech, a successful rescue mission by U.S. special forces in Somalia and yesterday a report from the Commerce Department showing the economy grew by 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter. That's not exactly robust, but it is the fastest pace of growth in a year and a half.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So our economy is getting stronger. And we've come too far to turn back now.


HORSLEY: Throughout the week, Mr. Obama said he doesn't want to return to a boom and bust economy built on excess credit and financial gambling. Instead, in Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan, he stressed the importance of advanced factories.

OBAMA: When manufacturing does well, then the entire economy does well.

HORSLEY: And homegrown energy.

OBAMA: We, it turns out, are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.

HORSLEY: And a well-trained workforce.

OBAMA: Think about how you can gain the skills and training you need to succeed in this 21st century economy.


HORSLEY: As he roamed and rambled through pivotal swing states this week, Mr. Obama also stressed what he called a renewal of American values.

OBAMA: I want this to be a big, bold, generous country where everybody gets a fair shot; everybody's doing their fair share; everybody's playing by the same set of rules. That's the America I know. That's the America I want to keep. That's the future within our reach.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama ended his road trip with a raucous, campaign-style rally at the University of Michigan. Sahana Prasad was one of about 4,000 students who showed up. Some of them had stood in line at midnight just to get tickets.

SAHANA PRASAD: I am a huge supporter of President Obama so, like, I was very excited about this opportunity, I was especially after the State of the Union because I was very moved by that.

HORSLEY: One of the arguments in that speech, and the tour that followed, is that all Americans benefit when the government invests - in subsidizing college tuition or funding research or building roads and bridges. These things didn't just happen on their own, Mr. Obama said. And somebody has to pay for them. That's a starkly different view of the government's role than the one advanced by Republican candidates. Mitt Romney, who's been forced to defend his relatively low tax rate this week, argued during a CNN debate that his considerable investment fortune is entirely self-made.

MITT ROMNEY: I have earned the money that I have. I didn't inherit it. I take risk. I make investments. Those investments lead to jobs being created in America. I'm proud of being successful. I'm proud of being in the free enterprise system that creates jobs for other people. I'm not going to run from that.

HORSLEY: The president didn't single Romney or any of the Republican candidates out by name. But speaking in the state where Romney was born, and where his father once served as governor, Mr. Obama suggested that all those who are successful in America have an obligation to see that success is widely shared.

OBAMA: Everybody here is only here because somebody somewhere down the road decided we're going to think not just about ourselves but about the future. We've got responsibilities, yes, to ourselves but also to each other.

HORSLEY: Romney has argued that when he was in business, he mostly wanted the government to stay out of his way. Whichever party wins that argument will have a lot to say about the future state of the union. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.