ELYRIA, Ohio (Reuters) – President Barack Obama, ending a tough week, told Americans on Friday he would keep fighting to create jobs and reform healthcare.
In a speech in Ohio, Obama gave a likely preview of some populist themes of his first State of the Union address next Wednesday.
"I'll never stop fighting for you," he told an audience in this former industrial stronghold bordering Lake Erie.
Obama was thrown on the defensive this week when the election of a Republican senator from Massachusetts ended the Democrats 60-vote supermajority in the Senate and enabled Republicans to block healthcare legislation.
The loss will make it harder for Obama to advance his ambitious domestic agenda.
Obama, who has been criticized for focusing so much attention on healthcare while Americans are suffering 10 percent unemployment, defended his approach and vowed to keep trying on healthcare.
"I know folks in Washington are in a little bit of a frenzy this week, trying to figure out what the election in Massachusetts the other day means for health insurance reform," he said.
"I am not going to walk away just because it's hard. We're going to keep on working to get this done with Democrats, Republicans - anyone who is willing to step up."
Obama's visit to Ohio showcased an effort to promote jobs while helping him move past a significant political setback that has overshadowed the entire week.
"I'll take my lumps, too. I'll never stop fighting to bring jobs back to Elyria. I'll never stop fighting for an economy where hard work is rewarded, where responsibility is honored, where accountability is upheld, where we're creating the jobs of tomorrow," he said.
Obama, who has acknowledged he could have done a better job of communicating on the economy, has resorted to more populist rhetoric since the loss. He took on big banks on Thursday with plans to curb their excessive risk-taking, and switched on Friday to the national anxiety over unemployment.
Locals were eager to hear what he could do for them and for a state where unemployment, at 10.6 percent, is a touch above the national average.
"We don't know what our future is here and it is scary," said Andy Young, editor of Elyria's local newspaper, The Chronicle-Telegram. "We want a sense that he has an idea how to help with the transition from a manufacturing based economy to the future," he said.
It was the second stop on Obama's so-called White House to Main Street tour, announced in December. One aim is to help the president demonstrate that he understands how important it is to fix.
The United States suffered the worst recession in 70 years after its housing market collapsed.
Elyria has steadily shed manufacturing jobs since the 1980s, as local factories lost out to cheaper labor markets overseas. The White House has said the town has received $6.6 million under Obama's emergency spending bill.
Obama wants to encourage new clean energy industries and has channeled billions of dollars their way from a $787 billion stimulus package he signed in February 2009.
The House of Representatives has already approved $155 billion more for a jobs package and the Senate is expected to take up its version of a jobs bill in coming weeks.
Top priorities include extending unemployment insurance and aid to state and local governments, as well and improving the flow of credit to small businesses to encourage them to expand and hire more workers.