MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa -- Back in the state that jump-started his White House bid, President Barack Obama sought to reassure wary Iowa voters with a message he hopes will resonate in the fall elections: The economic recovery hasn't reached everyone, but progress is being made.
Starting his two-day, three-state Midwestern trip, Obama focused on his economic and clean energy programs as job creators, even as he acknowledged the pain and skepticism of hard-hit areas. He's not on the ballot this year, but his party's control of Congress is at stake, along with dozens of governors' seats and state legislatures.
Despite encouraging news about an expanding economy and markets, the president told an Iowa crowd, ''times are still tough in towns like Fort Madison. And times are still tough for middle-class Americans, who have been swimming against the current for years before this economic tidal wave hit.''
Obama outlined his administration's goals to ''create conditions so that folks who work hard can finally get ahead.'' They include improving schools, making college more affordable, expanding health coverage and preventing Wall Street irresponsibility, he said.
Underscoring the challenge was agriculture secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who told reporters traveling with Obama: ''There's a silent crisis occurring in rural America that's been ongoing for several decades.'' He said the president is delivering a new framework for the ''revival of the rural economy.''
Obama also plans to stop in Illinois and Missouri before returning to the White House late today. Iowa and Missouri are sharply contested in virtually every election, and Republicans this year think they can snag the Illinois Senate seat that Obama held before becoming president.
Obama spoke after touring a plant that makes blades for wind turbines. The United States must lead the world in clean energy production, he said, and he cited tax credits included in last year's economic stimulus package.
They ''helped make it possible for America to install nearly 10 gigawatts of new wind generating capacity last year alone,'' enough to power more than 2.4 million American homes, he said. ''And each new wind farm has the potential to create hundreds of construction jobs, and dozens of permanent local jobs, in communities just like Fort Madison.''
He said he believes Congress and the nation can overcome deep divisions to enact far-reaching energy and climate legislation ''that will ignite new industries, spark new jobs'' and make America more energy independent.