CHICAGO (AP) — President Barack Obama was wrapping up a tour of the Big Three automakers and defending his decision to help them stay afloat by visiting a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in his hometown.
Most of the president's time in Chicago on Thursday, however, will be spent raising some of the millions of dollars Democrats will need as they campaign to keep control of both houses of Congress in the fall elections.
Obama's tour of the Ford plant follows visits last week to General Motors and Chrysler facilities in Detroit, where he argued that his administration's unpopular $60 billion bailout of those two companies helped save jobs and turn around an industry that was on the verge of collapse more than a year ago.
He'll argue the case anew at Ford's assembly plant.
Ford, which did not accept federal bailout money, is adding 1,200 jobs and a second shift at the Chicago plant. The White House says that's possible in part because of $400 million in new Energy Department loan guarantees for companies that redesign their plants to make more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Ford's Chicago plant, which used to make the company's Taurus, will begin cranking out a redesigned, energy-efficient 2011 Explorer SUV that the company hopes to sell in more than 90 countries.
Obama also planned to touch on the auto industry's role in boosting U.S. exports. The president has set a goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years.
Toward that end, the Export-Import Bank was announcing Thursday a loan guarantee for Ford that will finance $3.1 billion in export sales for more than 200,000 vehicles being sold in Canada and Mexico.
While eager to frame the auto industry rebound as a success story Democrats can take to voters, most of Obama's time in the Windy City was being spent chasing the cold, hard cash candidates need to fund their campaigns.
Pairing an official event such as the Ford plant visit with political appearances allows the White House to bill taxpayers rather than the Democratic Party or individual candidates for most of the president's travel costs.
The president was headlining two separate events for the Democratic Party as well as a third for Alexi Giannoulias, the Democrat who is seeking the Senate seat Obama held before becoming president.
Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer, is trailing Republican Rep. Mark Kirk in the race for campaign cash. Losing the seat would be a huge embarrassment for Democrats come November.
Giannoulias has found himself embroiled in a controversy that followed the failure of his family's bank in Chicago. Regulators closed Broadway Bank earlier this year after it failed to raise new capital. Giannoulias was an executive at the bank before he was elected to state office in 2006, and Kirk has used the bank's failure to raise questions about Giannoulias' fitness to be a senator.
But Kirk has had his share of problems, too. The Naval Reserve officer recently acknowledged puffing up his military record, including claiming a prestigious award he never received.
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