President Barack Obama arrived at the Ford Motor Plant on Torrence Avenue in Chicago Thursday morning to get a get a first-hand look at the company's new fuel efficient line of Explorers and to tout a turnaround in the American auto industry that his administration stoked.
"The year before I took office, the American auto industry lost hundreds of thousands of jobs. [Now] it's not just coming back, it's on its way to being No. 1," Obama said.
The president, who arrived without a suit jacket followed by a throng of reporters, spent time chatting with employees before having a seat in one of the company's redesigned SUVs.
"I'm going to mow down these folks," the president joked as he looked out at the scrum of reporters taking notes and snapping photos. Then he started the engine.
The joke is perhaps an apt description of the way the president feels about the media at this juncture. He's trying to thread a needle here in Chicago, touting improvements in the economy -- like new jobs at the Ford plant -- and advancements in clean fuel cars while trying to avoid attention on negatives, like Thursday's jobless report.
In remarks he made at the plant Obama, says that while others criticized his $60 billion bailout over a year ago, he chose that course because of his faith in American workers.
While Ford did not accept federal funds, Obama argued that the company did benefit from a resurgence in the industry following the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler and a $400 million in new Energy Department loan guarantees for companies that redesign their plants to make more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Ford's Chicago plant, which used to make the company's Taurus, will begin cranking out a redesigned, energy-efficient 2011 Explorer SUV that the company hopes to sell in more than 90 countries.
While eager to frame the auto industry rebound as a success story Democrats can take to voters, most of Obama's time in the Windy City was being spent chasing the cold, hard cash candidates need to fund their campaigns.
Pairing an official event such as the Ford plant visit with political appearances allows the White House to bill taxpayers rather than the Democratic Party or individual candidates for most of the president's travel costs.
The president was headlining two separate events for the Democratic Party as well as a third for Alexi Giannoulias, the Democrat who is seeking the Senate seat Obama held before becoming president.
Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer, is trailing Republican Rep. Mark Kirk in the race for campaign cash. Losing the seat in November would be an embarrassment for Democrats.
Giannoulias has found himself embroiled in a controversy that followed the failure of his family's bank in Chicago. Regulators closed Broadway Bank earlier this year after it failed to raise new capital. Giannoulias was an executive at the bank before he was elected to state office in 2006, and Kirk has used the bank's failure to raise questions about Giannoulias' fitness to be a senator.
But Kirk has had his share of problems, too. The Naval Reserve officer recently acknowledged puffing up his military record, including claiming a prestigious award he never received.