Obama Talks Manufacturing In North Carolina

President Obama traveled to North Carolina Wednesday, where he talked about the manufacturing sector. Melissa Block talks with Scott Horsley about the event.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, President Obama renewed his pitch for alternative fuel vehicles. In the face of rising gas prices, he spoke at a truck manufacturing plant in North Carolina where some of the trucks are powered by cheaper and cleaner natural gas.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You're not just building trucks, you're building better trucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: That's right.

OBAMA: You're building trucks that use less oil. And you know that's especially important right now because most of you have probably filled up your gas tank a time or two in the last week.

BLOCK: This was the president's 13th visit to North Carolina, the state that's expected to be hotly contested in November. His re-election team is busy looking ahead while the Republican White House hopefuls continue to fight among themselves.

NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president in Mount Holly, North Carolina. And, Scott, tell us more about this plant that the president toured today.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, this is a Daimler North America truck plant that makes great, big industrial trucks, some of them, as you say, powered by natural gas. The plant's also part of an Energy Department program that's working to double the fuel efficiency of big rigs. And Mr. Obama used this opportunity to call for more tax incentives for alternative fuel vehicles, as well as a billion dollars to help communities build the infrastructure for those vehicles, things like electric car charging stations.

Now, this would take congressional action, and Republicans in Congress are skeptical. They point out that just last week, General Motors had to temporarily halt production of its electric Chevy Volt because there's just not enough consumer demand for those cars. But the White House is doubling down on these vehicles. They say they're going to be built somewhere. They want them built in the United States.

And the president is very directly challenging his Republican critics, both on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, who feel the feel the solution to higher gas prices is some variation of drill, baby, drill.

BLOCK: And, Scott, I gather that the Daimler plant that the president visited today is a bit of a bright spot in what's an otherwise pretty gloomy economy there in North Carolina.

HORSLEY: That's right. This company had laid off more than 2,000 workers back in 2009, just about the time that President Obama was coming into office. Naturally, demand for big industrial trucks dries up when the economy goes south like that. But as the economy has slowly rebounded, truck sales have increased, and this plant's been rehiring workers. Local economic development officials say that's having a big ripple effect in the area. And the employment picture's improving nationally as well. We're all sort of waiting to see what the latest figures for February show when they come out this Friday.

But it's a very mixed picture around the country, and the jobless rate for all of North Carolina is still well above the national average. In fact, it's one of the highest in the country.

BLOCK: And thinking about North Carolina, in the November election, it's considered a swing state at this point. President Obama did win there in 2008, but very, very narrowly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: Yes, by one-third of one percent. And he's going to have an uphill battle to win North Carolina again this fall. But the Democrats are certainly working hard to do that. The president spent a lot of time here on a bus tour last fall. Mrs. Obama was here earlier this year. And, of course, the Democrats will be holding their nominating convention in Charlotte this summer. So they're certainly sparing no effort. President Obama even wore a tie today he said was Carolina blue with a little Duke color as well, so leaving nothing to chance.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Covering all the bases there.

HORSLEY: Yeah.

BLOCK: This trip, Scott, comes, of course, one day after Super Tuesday. What is the Obama campaign saying about the results of the contest yesterday?

HORSLEY: Well, the campaign is pointing to the relatively low turnout in the Republican primaries as a sign that Republicans are still unsatisfied with their choices. But the real outcome of Super Tuesday is that the intra-party squabble in the GOP goes on. And meanwhile, the president's re-election team, they're getting a head start on the general election.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with the president in Mount Holly, North Carolina. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

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