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President Barack Obama may be pushing a new plan to "bring manufacturing back" as a way to boost his own re-election case in key Midwestern swing states, but vulnerable Democratic Senators in the Rust Belt hope it will bolster their electoral chances, too.
It's no coincidence that the White House has pushed hard on the issue. Manufacturing got top billing in Obama's State of the Union address last Tuesday. He followed up on Wednesday with a trip to the battleground state of Iowa to outline a tax-incentive-based platform to revive the sector. Vice President Joseph Biden, in a speech to Democrats last week, revealed that Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio and Michigan were among the top six states being targeted by the administration in 2012.
Democrats believe manufacturing job growth, especially in the auto industry, has been one of the bright spots of their résumé and that it's about time the administration touts that success. And some Democrats hope they can paint Republicans into a corner on the issue, as they did during last year's showdown over the payroll tax cut.
"It was exactly the right kind of message about manufacturing," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is up for re-election this year. The Ohio Democrat had repeatedly chastised the White House in recent years for not putting enough emphasis on manufacturing, but he said the president did take important steps such as saving the auto industry from collapse.
"They've started to get [it]," said Brown, who along with Democratic Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), is in the best position to benefit from a strong presidential campaign on manufacturing. "I think he's getting there."
Senate Democrats, in particular, have the opportunity to make the manufacturing message their own, or at least use it on the floor with symbolic votes designed to put Republicans in a tough spot.
A Senate Democratic leadership source sees the manufacturing tax break as the kind of issue that could split Republicans and ultimately force them to back down.
"The payroll tax debate showed that the best type of policy proposal to put Republicans on the defensive if you are trying to spur the economy is a tax cut, even though many Democrats would prefer to do things that are directly stimulative," the aide said.
Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), an example of an establishment Republican facing a primary opponent this cycle, already drew attention for being one of the few GOP Members to stand and applaud Obama during the segment of his State of the Union speech on government help for the auto industry.