Obama Promotes Energy Projects, Economy

When Barack Obama was running for president, he often got crowds to shout: "Fired up! Ready to go!" That fire has been missing lately from some of his presidential appearances. But it was evident at a gathering in Kansas City Thursday.

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When Barack Obama was running for president, he often got crowds to shout: Fired up! Ready to go! That fire's been missing from some of his presidential appearances. But it was evident yesterday. NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro was with the president as he visited Kansas City and Las Vegas.

ARI SHAPIRO: About once a week President Obama gives a speech on the economy. He visits a factory often in a swing state, often involved in clean energy technology and he talks about how the economic recovery act kept that factory open.

Yesterday, Air Force One touched down in Kansas City, a short walk from the airport hangar where Smith Electric builds batteries for electric trucks. A poster said huge payloads, zero emissions. Companies like Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay use these electric trucks to make deliveries. President Obama said some people argue we should abandon these efforts.

President BARACK OBAMA: My answer is come right here to Kansas City, come see what's going on at Smith Electric. I think they're going to be hard-pressed to tell you that you're not better off than you would be if we hadn't made the investments in this plant.

SHAPIRO: That oblique partisan jab became an outright clobber later in the day. People sometimes accuse Mr. Obama of being too cool, but at a fundraiser for Senate candidate Robin Carnahan he was anything but.

President OBAMA: These folks drove the economy into a ditch, and they want the keys back. And you get to say the same thing to them that you said to your teenager: You can't have the keys back, because you don't know how to drive yet.

SHAPIRO: Missouri's Republican Senator Kit Bond is retiring. That makes this a rare chance for Democrats to pick up a seat in a year when the party expects its majority to shrink. Mr. Obama took a far more partisan tone than he used in the presidential campaign two years ago.

Flying to Missouri on Air Force One, White House spokesman Bill Burton gave this explanation for the shift.

Mr. BILL BURTON (Spokesman, White House): You know, what the president said was he was going to come to Washington and do everything he could to move our country in the right direction. And when there are moments that help to illustrate the differences between our philosophy and their philosophy, the president has taken it upon himself to point those out to the American people.

SHAPIRO: Missouri never fell head-over-heels in love with Barack Obama. The state went for John McCain in 2008. And Mr. Obama is less popular now than he was then. So while he can generate enthusiasm and raise money for Carnahan, he also poses a risk. Carnahan's Republican opponent Roy Blunt said in a conference call with reporters, I believe he's helping me more than her.

Mr. Obama seemed to acknowledge that risk when he made the case for why voters should send Carnahan to Washington.

President OBAMA: She's not even going there to represent every aspect of either party's agenda or my agenda.

SHAPIRO: But elsewhere in the speech he seemed to take a different view of the role Carnahan would play if she were elected. He said if she were in the Senate, a Wall Street regulation bill would already be law.

President OBAMA: I need another vote. It'd be helpful.

SHAPIRO: As he stood on the stage, he put his arm around Carnahan. It's an image Blunt will likely use in his campaign ads in the fall to tie his opponent to the policies coming out of Washington.

Here in Las Vegas the situation is different. Mr. Obama came here to help a man who helped set the Washington agenda - Senate majority, leader Harry Reid.

David Damore teaches political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He says Senator Reid and President Obama are both trying to win a popularity contest that they have been losing for months.

Professor DAVID DAMORE (Political science, University of Nevada): It's an uphill battle, because I think clearly they lost the message war the first time around on both the stimulus and the health care. And now it's a little harder to sort of change the percept among voters.

SHAPIRO: Reid is already running ads touting the impact of the health care bill on people in Nevada. This morning, he joins president Obama to discuss the impact of the Economic Recovery Act.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, traveling with the president in Las Vegas.

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