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Wisconsin governor cancels appearance with Obama at Milwaukee plant

Feb. 15: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker presents President Barack Obama with a Milwaukee Brewers baseball jersey upon his arrival at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.AP

President Obama was visiting padlock maker Master Lock in Milwaukee on Wednesday, but he wasn't joined by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who greeted the president on his arrival, but canceled his escort duties, citing recovery from the flu.

Walker suffered from the stomach flu on Tuesday and canceled a speech to the Milwaukee Rotary Club. His spokesman said that while Walker was welcoming the president on the tarmac at General Miller International Airport, he didn't think he could get through the event at Master Lock, which Obama is visiting to mark the company's returning 100 jobs to the U.S. from China.

The decision to bow out, while on its face may be understandable, does limit the governor's face time with the president, whose backers want to boot Walker from office over his successful effort to end collective bargaining rights for most public workers included in last year's budget.

Walker insisted it wasn't a political decision.

"If it was politics, I wouldn't have greeted him here," Walker told reporters after the president landed. "Today's the president's day. I'm appreciative he's in Wisconsin, appreciative he's focused on manufacturing. We'll leave politics for another day."

Obama's visit coincides with the one-year anniversary of the first widespread protests against Walker's proposals. The governor has been targeted for a recall election that could come in the spring or summer. 

Both sides in the debate have tried to define the recall election as a bellwether of how Obama will fare in Wisconsin next fall. Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008 but faces a much more difficult challenge this year after Republicans captured nearly every statewide office two years ago. 

The president's standing has declined in parts of the Midwest. Walker has said a win would deliver a "devastating blow" to Obama's re-election campaign.

Independent organizers of a group trying to aid Walker's survival issued a statement Wednesday accusing Obama of traveling to Wisconsin "to show solidarity to the leftist protestors who stormed the State Capitol one-year ago in a massive effort to harass and intimidate Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators."

On Tuesday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who is originally from Wisconsin, held a conference call with Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, in which they mocked the president's trip. 

The visit "amounts to nothing more than yet another taxpayer-paid funded campaign stop by the president ... highlighting yet again a president who is absolutely in love with the sound of his own voice," Priebus said. 

"With President Obama going to Milwaukee and visiting Master Lock, it does remind me of the rooster taking credit for the sunrise," Johnson said.

In the acrimonious debate, Wisconsin Democrats are no less vitriolic. In a mock Valentine's Day breakup note, the party wrote that Walker lied, had bad judgment and was engaging in cronyism.

"This isn't working. It's time for us to see other people. I wish I could say that it was me, not you, but we both know that isn't true. It's you," the party wrote.

Critics note that despite Walker's claim that he had balanced the budget with the contentious legislation last year, the state still has a budget deficit, which Walker plans to fill with money from the foreclosure settlement reached last week between the states and the five big banks.

Wisconsin's unemployment rate dropped from 7.8 percent in July to 7.1 percent in December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Wisconsin economy is also said to be expanding "at a moderate pace," mostly through manufacturing and agriculture output, according to BMO Capital Markets Economics, which issued its monthly report on the states on Tuesday.

Pointing to that rebound Obama is heading to Master Lock, a union shop, to encourage more investment and jobs in the U.S. 

"Right now we have an excellent opportunity to bring manufacturing back -- but we have to seize it," Obama will say, according to remarks prepared for delivery. "My message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed."

Obama has repeatedly talked up the nation's manufacturing base as an engine of growth and a sign of a recovering economy. He has urged companies to promote "insourcing," promising new tax incentives for businesses that bring jobs to the U.S. instead of shipping them overseas and eliminating tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs.

But most of Obama's trip will be devoted to fundraising. The president is holding eight fundraisers for his re-election campaign in the Los Angeles area, San Francisco and Seattle.

After departing Milwaukee, Obama was to attend two fundraisers in Los Angeles. The first at the home of soap opera producer Bradley Bell and his wife, Colleen, featuring a performance by the rock band the Foo Fighters. The second will be a dinner at the Bells' home co-hosted by actor Will Ferrell and his wife, Viveca Paulin. The fundraising will benefit the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee for Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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