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Barack Obama, playing in Peoria

February 12, 2009 |  9:11 am

Caterpillar equipment

But how will it play in Peoria?

For decades, politicians and advertisers have used this Midwestern city of Midwestern values as something of a barometer. Once in the heartland of the country (which has since moved South and West), this Illinois town has cachet as a test market for everything from toothpaste to political candidates.

But a $789-billion stimulus package?

As President Obama lands today to tour a Cat factory in East Peoria and tout the just-passed stimulus package for its ability to create jobs, he's got more than the hometown advantage of an Illinois politician returning to his base. He's got a CEO on board.

Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens, who announced in January that the company would eliminate nearly 20,000 workers, said this week that if the bill passed, he would be able to hire back some of the workers. And today he accompanies Obama on Air Force One as he flies into Illinois.

At a highway construction site in Springfield, Va., on Wednesday, Obama lauded the connection between the construction workers who could finish the highway in Virginia and the workers at the Caterpillar plant in Peoria who could go back to work. That's the reason, he said, that the jobs created by the bill could "multiply across the economy."

Not everyone is convinced. Rick Doty, president of the United Auto Workers Local 974, which represents thousands of Caterpillar workers, told the Chicago Tribune that Owens is not saying he's going "to rehire U.S. employees or even Peoria employees."

--Johanna Neuman

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