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Published: Tuesday, 6/3/2008

Obama touts clean energy in Michigan visit

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

TROY, Mich. - Two days after winning Michigan Democratic delegates without having appeared on the primary ballot, Sen. Barack Obama brought his campaign for the presidency back to this must-win state in the general election.

He brought with him a message of hope for workers, but included some "straight talk" about the economy, gas prices, and international trade.

Speaking in an area that is perceived as the heart of the engineering and finance capital of the national automotive industry, Mr. Obama vowed to invest in cleaner energy and a "new transportation sector."

"Few understand the need for change more than the people of Michigan," Mr. Obama said to a very enthusiastic crowd.

It was his second trip to Michi-gan in three weeks, after campaigning last month in Grand Rapids and Macomb County.

He called for $150 billion in new investment in alternative energy over 10 years, which he said would lead to 5 million new clean-energy jobs.

He blasted President Bush's handling of the economy, saying that the recent period of sustained growth was unique since World War II in that workers experienced a $1,000 decline in their annual average income.

He promised to take on foreign trade competition that he said is unfair to American workers. But he rounded out the criticism of international free trade he often made in the earlier phase of his campaign by reminding listeners the nation has to compete internationally.

"We are in a more competitive economic environment. That's the truth. We're not going to be able to draw a moat around the United States," Mr. Obama said.

When a young questioner asked if he could expect gas prices to come down soon, Mr. Obama said not right away.

"We are not going to be able to lower gas prices immediately," Mr. Obama said. "The general trajectory is going to be up until we start to use our oil more wisely."

Mr. Obama, who normally speaks to huge crowds in college arenas, addressed a comparatively intimate setting of 1,500 people at Troy High School in this affluent Detroit suburb, and then took questions for a half hour.

On Saturday, the Democratic National Committee's rules panel voted to seat half of Michigan's and Florida's convention delegates as punishment for the states holding their primaries early. Senator Obama's major opponent for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, got 55 percent of the vote in the Michigan Primary on Jan. 15. Mr. Obama's name was not on the ballot, but "uncommitted" got 44 percent of the vote.

The rules panel agreed on a compromise offered by the Michigan Democratic Party that granted Mrs. Clinton 69 delegates and Mr. Obama 59. Each delegate would get half a vote at the convention, according to the deal.

Mr. Obama is still a few delegates short of getting the nomination, but he sounded yesterday in Oakland County like the victor in the Democratic Party race.

He said Senator Clinton "has run an outstanding race" and she's "an outstanding public servant."

He lampooned his presumed Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who he quoted as saying the U.S. has "made great progress economically."

After citing a litany of woes facing middle-class Americans such as rising gasoline prices and the foreclosure crisis, he said, "That is not great progress. That is cause for concern."

Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis issued a statement saying that Mr. Obama will have to do more to win Michigan voters' support.

"Only after Obama had all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination did he schedule a campaign stop in Michigan last month," Mr. Anuzis said. "He's hoping that a few well-staged photo-ops will mollify voter uncertainty about his qualifications to be our commander in chief."

Mr. Obama renewed his pledge to provide health care that all Americans can afford, a $1,000 tax credit for working families, and a $4,000 tuition tax credit to be earned by college-bound students pledging to work in national service.

He vowed to "bring this [Iraq] war to an honorable close," to win the war in Afghanistan, and to improve services and benefits to military veterans.

Local politicians said Oakland County is an important "swing" county in the state that accounts for 12 percent of Michigan's population.

The county boasts some of Michigan's top financial and retail institutions.

Mr. Obama acknowledged as much when he talked about education, complimenting Troy on being one of the best high schools in the nation.

"I want the kids in Detroit to get the same education," he said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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