Obama returns to Michigan with an eye on the economy, electoral votes

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaLet's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy Mattis dodges toughest question At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE (Ill.) returned to the battleground state of Michigan Monday, underscoring his need to do well there and his efforts to claim the mantle of economic savior this election season.

The purpose of Obama’s visit — his third in recent weeks after not campaigning in the state or even appearing on its ballot in the primary season — was to deliver a speech on renewing American’s competitiveness in an area that has been hit hard in recent years by a faltering economy.

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Speaking at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., Obama spoke of the economic challenges the area and the country have faced, the importance of technology to the future and the need for more educational funding to retrain workers displaced by outsourced jobs.

“Rather than fear the future, we must embrace it,” Obama said. “I have no doubt that America can compete — and succeed — in the 21st century. And I know as well that more than anything else, success will depend not on our government, but on the dynamism, determination and innovation of the American people.”

The speech, which was to be followed by a rally in Detroit, where Obama was scheduled to be joined by former Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreGinsburg calls proposal to eliminate Electoral College 'more theoretical than real' Difference between primaries and caucuses matters in this election Emma Thompson pens op-ed on climate change: 'Everything depends on what we do now' MORE, came in the second week of Obama’s 17-day “Change That Works for You” tour that has seen the Illinois senator make a priority of the battleground states.

As has been the case so far, the Michigan Republican Party was ready and waiting to pounce on Obama, complete with a Web video that highlights the Democrat’s decision to withdraw his name from the state’s Democratic primary ballot and his subsequent pledge not to campaign in the state during the primaries.

The Web video, titled “What took you so long?” hit Obama for not campaigning in the state, even going so far as to say, “You stiffed our voters.”

That ad was followed by a conference call with reporters on which Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis hammered Obama’s economic policies, saying that they said would “jeopardize” the state’s middle class.

“We’re just glad Barack Obama finally came back to town,” Rogers said. “We’re hoping we’ll finally get a good vetting of what he stands for.”

Rogers and Anuzis said Obama’s plans would raise taxes on coal and natural gas, further “punishing” the state’s automotive industry.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) was also critical of Obama’s competitiveness agenda, as they continued concentrated efforts to portray the Democrat as a “tax-and-spend liberal.”

“Barack Obama is wrong: Raising taxes on small businesses and limiting free trade will make American less competitive — not more competitive,” said Alex Conant, an RNC spokesman. “Obama can slap whatever label he wants on his tax-and-spend agenda, but it won’t create new jobs or promote prosperity.”

Obama’s two-day visit to the state underscores just how important his campaign views Michigan to its electoral success.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Obama’s campaign is looking at a strategy that would allow the Illinois senator to lose the traditional battlegrounds of Florida and Ohio, but he would need to hold onto three states Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryLet's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy The Memo: Democrats struggle to find the strongest swing-state candidate 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster MORE (Mass.) won in 2004 — Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Michigan. Gore won Michigan in 2000.

Just about every poll recently conducted in the state shows Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Biden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE (Ariz.) with a narrow lead. The RealClearPolitics average of polls has McCain leading Obama by less than two percentage points.

Obama has an uphill battle against McCain in Michigan in his bid to claim the state’s 17 electoral votes.

Not only did McCain win the primary there in 2000, but he competed vigorously in this year’s primary before losing to native son and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) by nine points. McCain’s defeat there was considered respectable since Romney’s father served as governor of the state.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), one of the only Democratic candidates who didn’t remove her name from the Jan. 15 ballot, won the primary with 55 percent of the vote. Because there was still a full slate of Democratic candidates — former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), New Mexcio Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), although they were not on the Michigan ballot — it is difficult to tell how many of those who voted for “uncommitted” did so as a protest vote in favor of Obama.