PETERSBURG, Va. — President Barack Obama called Friday for increased incentives to boost manufacturing, using a Rolls-Royce facility that's adding jobs in this key swing state to tout his economic policies in an official presidential visit that had echoes of a campaign rally.
Standing on a stage in the cavernous Rolls-Royce Crosspointe facility here that makes jet engine parts, Obama pointed to Friday's robust February U.S. jobs report as evidence that his economic policies are working.
"Day by day, we're restoring this economy from crisis, but we can't stop there. We've got to make this economy ready for tomorrow," Obama told a receptive crowd of 1,460. It was his eighth official trip to Virginia since September.
He closed with a line that sounded out of a campaign speech: "I did not run for this office just to get back to where we were. I ran to get us to where we need to be. And I promise you we will get there."
Flanked by a banner reading "An America Built to Last," Obama called for a national network of institutes for manufacturing innovation — something he proposes to spend $1 billion to create.
"You've got all this brain power and skills coming together in a hub, it allows everyone to learn from each other," Obama said.
With his proposed budget facing resistance in Congress, Obama said he'd move immediately to launch a pilot program aimed at sparking manufacturing innovation.
Republicans dismissed his trip into central Virginia — a state that will be a major battleground in the November election — as a campaign trip for Obama, who's hoping to repeat his 2008 victory here, when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1964.
Indeed, Obama noted as soon as he took the stage that he last visited the area during his 2008 campaign, when he had his campaign bus pull over in Petersburg for a cheeseburger.
Much of his 22-minute speech was a defense of his record — from job numbers to rising gasoline prices. He started by noting that in 2008 "the economy was already shedding jobs," and he argued that under his watch, businesses are beginning to add new jobs, including Rolls-Royce, which the White House said plans to add 140 new jobs at the Virginia plant and 100 more in Indiana.
He sought to link the Roll's plant's manufacturing success to his auto industry rescue, for which he gave a spirited defense, saying that the "heartbeat of American manufacturing" was at stake, along with 1 million jobs.
"The key now is to keep this economy engine churning," Obama said. "We can't go back to the same policies that got us into this mess. ... We've got to have an economy that's built to last."
Under fire from Republicans over rising gasoline prices, he argued that "every day we're producing more oil and gas than we have in years," and he noted that his administration raised auto fuel standards to 55 miles a gallon.
"It shows that depending on foreign oil doesn't have to be our future," he said.
Rolls-Royce North America chairman James M Guyette offered reporters tempered optimism about the recovering economy.
"You can see a gradual recovery, the question is how fast?" Guyette said. He noted that he sees "economic green shoots," but he cautioned, "Let's not get overly enthusiastic, this is going to be gradual."
Obama's visit comes three days after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Virginia primary —which only had a 5 percent voter turnout. Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul were the only two Republicans to qualify for the state ballot, depriving the contest of much suspense _ or visits from the candidates.
Obama's campaign already has five offices in the state and plans to open more in the next month. The campaign, which has had a presence in the state with its affiliated group Organizing for America, has held more than 5,500 events in Virginia since last April.
But political strategists see a tough race in the state, noting that Virginia has moved further right since 2008, electing Republican Bob McDonnell governor in 2009.
McDonnell, who greeted Obama at the airport in Richmond, gave him a golf glove printed with the slogan: "Virginia is for Lovers."
McDonnell, who is considered a potential Republican vice presidential pick, told reporters that Obama was "very impressed" that it was a left-handed glove.
"I told him we had done our opposition research," McDonnell said.
After his remarks, Obama, who toured the facility before taking the stage, was headed off to Houston for a pair of campaign fundraisers.
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