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Obama to tout energy plans in battleground North Carolina

By Missy Ryan

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama travels on Wednesday to the electoral battleground of North Carolina, where he will promote plans to boost green cars and trucks as he defends his energy record against a wave of Republican attacks.

Visiting a truck plant near Charlotte, Obama is expected to speak about clean energy and jobs as the White House works to ensure the president wins North Carolina in the November 6 election. Obama narrowly took the state in 2008 in the first Democratic win in North Carolina in decades.

As the race toward the November election picks up speed, both first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have made visits to North Carolina, where voters will take part in the state's Republican primary on May 8.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney failed to land a knockout blow on rival Rick Santorum in this week's 'Super Tuesday' nominating contests, threatening a drawn-out battle to choose a nominee to face against Obama this fall.

The economy and jobs will be pivotal issues for voters in November, while high gasoline prices have prompted Republican attacks against Obama's energy policies.

Wednesday's visit to North Carolina, where Obama needs to win over blue-collar voters, will reflect White House efforts to link energy innovation to job creation by highlighting steps to improve fuel efficiency and cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

While economists had feared the U.S. economy would slow sharply at the start of this year, that pessimism has been shaken off by a string of surprisingly solid data that paints a picture of a building recovery.

Such encouraging signals may be cold comfort to out-of-work Americans in states like North Carolina, which has one of the country's highest unemployment rates at over 10 percent, according to the Labor Department, versus 8.3 percent nationally.

"The economy is getting stronger, and the recovery is speeding up. And the question now is, how do we make sure that it keeps going?" Obama asked during remarks to business executives on Tuesday.

Facing Republican attacks on energy, the White House has touted an increase in domestic oil production and stressed that rising gasoline prices at home are due largely to booming demand abroad and to volatility on world markets.

Administration officials said that during his visit to the

Daimler Trucks North America factory near Charlotte, the president will speak about proposals that would, as part of his 'all-of-the-above' energy plan, encourage the use of alternate fuels and more green technology.

The president's proposals would set aside $1 billion to encourage the use by communities of advanced vehicles, expand tax incentives for electric cars and alternative-fuel trucks, and fund research into vehicle and battery technology. Much of the proposed policy would require congressional approval.

Republicans seeking to deny Obama a second term are trying to pin higher prices at the pump on the president's tax and environmental policies they say have hindered domestic production and kept the United States at the mercy of imports.

(Additional reporting by Alister Bull and Patricia Zengerle; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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