ELYRIA, Ohio — Arriving in the state as its unemployment rate climbed to 10.9 percent, President Barack Obama Friday assured Ohioans he won't stop pushing for job creation and healthcare reform despite recent political setbacks.
"I did not run for president to turn away from these challenges," he told a town hall meeting of about 1,300 at Lorain County Community College.
"I didn't run for president to kick them down the road," he said. "I ran for president to confront them once and for all. I ran for this office to rebuild our economy so it works not just for the fortunate few, but for everybody who's willing to work hard in this country."
He alluded to Tuesday's loss of a crucial Democratic Senate seat in Massachusetts and made light of suggestions it will make passage of his priority healthcare bill that much harder. The lost Senate vote represents the 60th that Democrats had in its arsenal to shut down a potential Republican filibuster to prevent a final vote on the controversial measure.
"Here's the good news," he said. "We've gotten pretty far down the road, but I've got to admit, we've run into a bit of a buzz saw this week. I also know that part of the reason is this process is so long and drawn out… It's just an ugly process. We've run headlong into special interests, and armies of lobbyists, and partisan politics, exploiting fears instead of getting things done, and you're got ads that are scaring the bejesus out of everybody."
During his town hall meeting that lasted about 70 minutes, Mr. Obama fielded questions about the struggling steel industry, the absence of a recent cost-of-living raise for Social Security recipients, intellectual property, job training, and the difficulty of finding a good job when one has a criminal record.
The event was the second stop on his White House to Main Street Tour. The first was held last month in another former steel town, Allentown, Pa.
Air Force One touched down in Cleveland shortly after Ohio announced that its seasonally adjusted unemployment rate hit 10.9 percent in December, up from 10.6 a month. That compares to a national unemployment picture of 10 percent.
Perhaps echoing the message he'll deliver Wednesday during his second State of the Union Address, Mr. Obama defended his decisions to take on what he knew could be unpopular steps, including government bailout of large financial institutions and the auto industry.
"Today, because we took these actions, the worst of this economic storm has passed," Mr. Obama said. "But families like yours and communities like this one are still reeling from the devastation left in its wake. One of the companies I visited, EMC [Precision Manufacturing], a wonderful company…, they have hung on…
"But they had 77 employees," he said. "Now they have 44. They want to hire back, but it's going to take some time. The good news is they're starting to see orders pick up."
He then promoted passage of another economic stimulus package, this one directly targeting job creation.
The unemployment rate in Lorain County, hard hit with the fade of steel and auto manufacturing, has an unemployment rate slightly below the statewide average. Many of the county's people commutes to adjacent Cuyahoga County.
Before the town hall meeting, Mr. Obama toured nearby EMC Precision Machining, an 85-year-old company that produces complex precision components for machinery. He talked with workers and examined some of the products it produces.
He also toured the college's wind turbine lab, the state's first degree program training workers for wind technology installation and maintenance. The county has received heavy financial support from last year's controversial economic stimulus package for alternative energy research.
He was joined on his visit to Elyria for a few hours by the likes of Gov. Ted Strickland, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
"On the day when we learned that Ohio's unemployment has risen to 10.9 percent, the president has an opportunity to tell Ohioans his plans for jump-starting our economy and helping create the jobs we desperately need to get us back on track," said Rob Portman, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Republican George Voinovich.
"Unfortunately, instead of bringing new jobs the President is coming to Ohio to promote the budget-busting, job-killing policies that helped elect Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Ohio working families simply can't afford an agenda that will take our economy in the wrong direction."