Obama Puts Early Focus on Michigan Sen. Barack Obama returned to Michigan this week for two days of campaigning. It's the first state to get such attention from the likely Democratic presidential nominee.
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Obama Puts Early Focus on Michigan

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Obama Puts Early Focus on Michigan

Obama Puts Early Focus on Michigan

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Barack Obama is trying to make up for lost time. Since Hillary Clinton's concession, Obama has paid not one but two visits to Michigan. He wrapped up a two-day swing through the state this afternoon, sitting down with students at a community college outside Detroit.

And last night, he accepted former Vice President Al Gore's endorsement at a Detroit rally that drew 20,000 people. The event was part of Obama's effort to build credibility in a state where he did no primary campaigning and where he faces real challenges this fall.

NPR's David Greene is traveling with Obama, and he sent us this report.

DAVID GREENE: It seems like whenever a big-name Democrat is ready to endorse Obama, it's time to go to Michigan. Last month, Obama brought John Edwards to Grand Rapids and last night, he brought out Al Gore.

Vice President AL GORE: Yes, we can.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Vice President GORE: Thank you.

GREENE: Gore walked with Obama into Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, where thousands of people had waited for hours for the two men to arrive. Before getting to Obama, Gore had this to say.

Vice President GORE: Thank you, Michigan, for supporting me in 2000. I'll never forget it.

GREENE: It would be hard for anyone to forget the famous 2000 recount that put George W. Bush in the White House. Of course, this primary season, Michigan had its own election troubles. The Democratic Party initially stripped Michigan of its delegates. Obama took his name off the ballot, and he didn't campaign here. Gore's message was, it's time to put that aside and join Obama now.

Vice President GORE: As a 12-year-old boy, I stood in the snow in front of the Capitol as John Fitzgerald Kennedy took the oath of office. I know what his inspiration meant to my generation, and I feel that same spirit in this auditorium here tonight, building all over this country this year.

GREENE: As Gore spoke, Obama was sitting in a chair on stage listening. And when it was the nominee's turn, Obama said he wanted everyone to start organizing for him, no matter what brought them to the arena.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Maybe you thought there was a rock concert here, maybe you just wanted to see Al Gore. We need you starting tonight. Starting tonight, we need you to volunteer. We need you to knock on doors.

GREENE: This kind of organizing may be especially important in Detroit because Obama may not be able to turn to the city's black mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, for much help. Kilpatrick is embroiled in a legal scandal and is fighting felony charges. Obama's appearance with Gore in Michigan was also risky. The state's struggling automakers have in the past been uneasy about Gore's battle to fight climate change, and Obama himself has said he'll be tough on the automakers when it comes to improving fuel efficiency. Last night, Obama tried to reassure people here that protecting the environment should also mean reinventing the auto industry.

Sen. OBAMA: Because we are going to build the cars of the future right here - plug-in hybrids, right here in Detroit, right here in Michigan, right here in America. That is our future if we come together.

GREENE: Many in Michigan are uncertain about the future. Families have been losing jobs, and the state has the nation's highest unemployment rate. And Obama tried to show he's listening to people here. Aside from his rally with Gore, Obama held mostly smaller events. He visited employees during a shift change at an auto plant in Flint. Today, he sat in a small courtyard chatting with students at Wayne County Community College.

Mr. ROYAL GAINES(ph): Sir, my name is Royal Gaines(ph), I'm a father of three, and I'm actually returning to college after a long period of time.

GREENE: Gaines said he had to wait because he had trouble getting approved for a new loan. Obama told the young man he understands the pain of dealing with lenders.

Sen. OBAMA: They're real nice to you when they're offering you the loan.

Mr. GAINES: Yeah.

Sen. OBAMA: Right?

Mr. GAINES: Mm-hmm.

Sen. OBAMA: They are saying how wonderful you are, you are a great customer, zero interest, you know, let's throw in a toaster, you know, you name it.

GREENE: This little courtyard was a far cry from last night's rally, but it was the kind of conversation Obama was looking for.

David Greene, NPR News, Taylor, Michigan.

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