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Obama says economy starting to ‘turn the corner’

President Obama on Friday pointed to improving job numbers as proof that his economic policies are taking hold, while contending that the new healthcare law is a moral response to the large number of uninsured Americans.

In his second trip in as many days, the president spoke at a company that received more than $49 million in stimulus funds; it was a forum designed to showcase his role in an employment picture that is looking more hopeful.

The government reported Friday that the United States gained 162,000 jobs in March. Although unemployment remains at 9.7%, the president spoke of a “harrowing” economic ordeal as a thing of the past.

He told employees at Celgard Co., a maker of supplies for lithium batteries, that “what we can see here, at this plant, is that the worst of the storm is over -- that brighter days are still ahead.”

“Today is an encouraging day,” he added. “We learned that the economy actually produced a substantial number of jobs instead of losing a substantial number of jobs. We are beginning to turn the corner.”

Since signing his healthcare bill into law on March 23, Obama has been dropping into politically important swing states as much to explain and defend old policies as to sell new ones. On Thursday, Obama flew to Portland, Maine, to tout his healthcare package.

White House aides concede they have a fair amount of work to do. Polls show Americans remain deeply skeptical that the $787-billion stimulus package created any new jobs. In a Gallup poll last week, 50% said they believed the new healthcare law was a “bad thing,” compared with 47% who believed it to be a “good thing.”

By making the trips -- and more are coming -- Obama hopes to sway public opinion and improve the climate for anxious Democrats up for reelection this fall.

It’s no small task. He received a polite reception at the company, as workers listened stoically to a speech that lacked the emotional lift of recent campaign-style appearances.

Joyce Reavis of Charlotte asked him about provisions that would raise taxes. Obama gave a long answer in which he suggested that the U.S., as the only advanced country that allowed millions of its citizens to go without health insurance, had a “moral imperative” to remedy the matter.

After the speech, a reporter asked Reavis if Obama’s answer was convincing.

“No, it wasn’t,” she said. “I believe there are other ways to go that we can pursue. I don’t like the way [healthcare] was pushed in under the table and we weren’t aware of it.”

A mix of protesters and supporters greeted Obama as he traveled back to the airport.

Some waved signs that said, “Thank You,” while protesters displayed signs reading “Stop Spending,” and “No to Socialism.” One sign said simply, “Nov. 2" -- a reference to the midterm elections.

peter.nicholas@ latimes.com


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