This article was updated at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 26.
President Obama jetted to Manitowoc, Wis., today on a mission to drive home the themes from Tuesday night's State of the Union address.
His speech called for more investments in education and infrastructure, set goals for the use of clean energy, and generally called on America to “out-innovate” and “out-build” the rest of the world. Today, he set out to defend that mission.
“In this new and challenging time, when America is facing tougher competition from countries around the world than ever before, we’ve got to up our game. We’re going to need to go all in. We’re going to need to get serious about winning the future,” Obama said today.
The state was a fitting place for the president to quote former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. “‘There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place,’ ” Obama said.
Since Ronald Reagan, every president has sought to reinforce his State of the Union theme by taking his message out to the public on the next day. It allows a president to get a second day of coverage and overshadow the critiques being offered by the opposition party and the pundits. It also gives him a chance to demonstrate to Congress that the public supports his agenda.
For his next-day defense, the president chose Orion Energy Systems, a power technology company that designs, manufactures, and sells energy efficiency and renewable energy technology for businesses. The company is growing, with plans to add 50 more employees to its current staff of 250 by the end of 2011.
“The jobs you’re creating here and the growth you’ve achieved I know have come through hard work and ingenuity and a single-minded focus on being the best at what you do,” Obama said. He praised the innovation of Orion CEO Neal Verfuerth, who created a new lighting fixture that produces twice the light with half the energy.
“Doing all of that took time, and patience, and most of all, it took persistence. It took a determination to succeed. And that's not something that Neal has a shortage of: determination,” Obama said. “That’s what sets Neal apart. That’s what sets Orion apart. And that’s what sets America apart. Here in America, we play to win.”
The president will also visit Skana Aluminum company, a growing aluminum manufacturer and rolling mill, and Broadwind Towers, a wind turbine tower manufacturer. The companies represent innovation, job growth, and success in clean energy, all important parts of Obama’s vision for the future.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the trip took him to Wisconsin. While Obama and Sen. John Kerry won the state easily in the last two presidential elections -- indeed, every Democratic candidate has won the state since 1988 -- the 2012 race won’t be nearly as easy. The state turned considerably more red this past November, with Republicans taking over a Senate seat and the governor’s mansion, both previously held by Democrats.
The president also hopes his love for the Chicago Bears, who were ousted from their shot at the Super Bowl by the Packers on Sunday, won’t preclude him from getting votes.
“Let me start by clearing something up. I am not here because I lost a bet,” he joked today. “Congratulations. In the spirit of sportsmanship I wish you good luck in the Super Bowl."
This article appears in the January 26, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.