By Caren Bohan
BETTENDORF, Iowa (Reuters) - President Barack Obama defended his economic record on Tuesday on a visit to Iowa, reminding voters in a state that could be crucial to his re-election that they helped send him to the White House.
"I know you have been seeing a lot of politicians around lately. Something tells me that you may see a few more before February is over. But Iowa, you and I, we go a long way back," Obama told workers at an Alcoa factory here.
Republicans have descended on Iowa in recent weeks to woo voters who will take part in the state's caucus in February, the first voting contest to pick a presidential nominee. But Obama reminded the state that it helped make him president.
"So we've got some history together, and together we're going to make some more history for years to come," he said.
Iowa's caucuses vaulted Obama to Democratic front-runner in 2008, and he went on to win it in against Republican John McCain. The state is expected to be competitive in the 2012 general election.
In campaign mode, Obama dropped by Ross's diner on his way to the factory to shake hands with customers and make good on a 3-year-old promise to owner Cynthia Freidhof to sample her calorie-rich 'volcano' sandwich that features Texas toast, hamburger and French fries and is topped with chili.
Obama greeted each of the customers.
Democrats have carried Iowa in five of the past six presidential elections. Obama drubbed McCain by a 54-44 percent margin -- after McCain did not campaign in the state during the Republican primary.
McCain was also hurt by his one-time stance of opposing ethanol subsidies in corn-growing Iowa. Obama supported them.
As in other states, Obama's hopes for courting voters in Iowa may rest on the economy's performance, and he is touting the strength of U.S. manufacturing as a sign his economic policies are working.
"MAKE THINGS RIGHT"
"A big part of our future has to be a robust and growing manufacturing sector. We've got to make things right here in America," he said to polite applause.
Republicans are blasting Obama's record on the economy, highlighting the stubbornly high national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent.
"We cannot afford four more years of millions of Americans who are out of work and are not making enough in wages to support a family ... We cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama," Michele Bachmann, a conservative member of the House of Representatives said in Iowa on Monday.
Bachmann chose Iowa to launch her campaign, while former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin -- who has not said whether she will make a presidential run in 2012 -- visits the state on Tuesday.
A recent run of weaker-than-expected economic indicators have put in doubt the vigor of the U.S. recovery, and U.S. manufacturing, which had added 134,000 new jobs in the first four months of the year, lost 5,000 jobs in May.
A poll published by Gallup on Tuesday showed confidence in the economy had dipped near its low for the year. Separately, the Conference Board said its measure of consumer confidence fell to 58.5 in June from a revised 61.7 in May, and short of expectations for 60.5.
"I know these are difficult times and many of you probably have friends who are looking for work," Obama said. "Sometimes it is tempting to turn cynical and to be doubtful about the future ... but that is not the America that I know. I see an America where people don't give up, where people don't quit."
(Additional reporting by Alister Bull and Laura MacInnis in Washington, editing by Philip Barbara)