(CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday launched a three-day visit to five battleground states in the November election by pressing State of the Union themes of core American values and having the wealthy pay more taxes.
At an Iowa manufacturing plant that he said represented the kind of job creation needed for the economy, Obama repeatedly drew applause for the apparent central message of his re-election bid -- that the country needs to keep alive equal opportunity for all.
Americans aren't looking for a handout, the president said, but want the security of knowing they can provide for their families, send their kids to college and save for retirement.
"That's all most people want. Folks don't have unrealistic ambitions," he said. "They do believe that if they work hard, they should be able to achieve that small measure of an American dream. That's what this country's about. That's what you deserve."
Later, Obama spoke at a $5 billion factory under construction in Arizona that computer chip maker Intel says will be the most advanced high-volume semiconductor manufacturing plant in the world when completed in 2013.
Standing in front of what's billed as the world's largest land-based crane, Obama called the factory being built "an example of an America that's within our reach" that leads in technology and job creation through investment and innovation.
Obama later heads to Nevada to spend the night. He also will visit Michigan and Colorado on the trip that ends Friday. All five states visited are considered competitive and important to the president's re-election hopes.
In Iowa, Obama took a jab at Republican critics of his policies, saying they had "collective amnesia" by calling for deregulation and deeper tax cuts that Obama said helped cause the 2008 financial collapse and recession.
"They want to go back to the very same policies that got us into this -- the same policies that have stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for years," he said. "Their philosophy, what there is of it, seems to be pretty simple: We're better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and everybody can play by their own rules."
To an outburst of applause, Obama added: "I'm here to say they're wrong. We're not going to go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, and bad debt, and phony financial profits. That's not how America was built."
He repeated his call from the Tuesday night speech for a 30% tax rate on people earning more than $1 million a year, saying it was wrong for the wealthy to pay a lower rate than ordinary workers. One of Obama's possible opponents in November, multimillionaire former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, revealed Tuesday he paid less than 15% in taxes last year on income derived mostly from investments.
"A quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households," Obama said, repeating his frequent anecdote that billionaire financier Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.
Responding to GOP criticism that his rhetoric and policies promote class warfare, Obama denied it.
"This is not class warfare. Asking a billionaire to pay as much as his secretary, that's just common sense," he said to applause.
The nation's mounting debt and deficits requires hard choices in spending government resources, he said.
"Do we want to keep investing in everything else -- education, medical research, our military, caring for our veterans, all of which are expensive -- or do we keep these tax cuts for folks that don't need them. Because we can't do both," Obama declared. "I want to be very clear about this. We cannot do both. We have to choose."
The president also talked about changing tax laws for companies, such as the Conveyor Engineering & Manufacturing in Cedar Rapids where he spoke, to reward U.S. businesses that create jobs at home and end tax breaks for those that send jobs overseas.
"We've got to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas and reward companies like Conveyor that create jobs right here in the United States of America," Obama said. "If you're a company that wants to outsource jobs or do business around the world, that's your right. It's a free market. But you shouldn't get a tax break for it."
Such tax benefits should go to companies bringing jobs back from overseas, he continued to applause, adding: "Manufacturers like Conveyor that stamp products with three proud words -- Made In America -- those are the folks who should be rewarded through our tax code."
Republicans criticized Obama's State of the Union address for what they called a failure to acknowledge the magnitude of the debt and deficit threat facing the country.
On the campaign trail in Florida on Wednesday, Romney and other GOP contenders accused Obama of misguided proposals that would worsen the economy for middle-class Americans.
Obama's speech revealed him to be "extraordinarily detached from reality," Romney said in Orlando.
"What he didn't say last night is that we are spending too much and borrowing too much and that America is on a collision course with debt, and that if we don't get off this course we could sink the American economy and go into calamity," Romney said. "We are, if you will, a virtual Titanic ... . The difference is, of course, with the Titanic they couldn't see the icebergs. In this case we can see the iceberg. We see it, we are headed toward it, and he is saying, 'Full speed ahead.' "
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, said Obama's proposal for millionaires to pay a 30% tax rate "would be a disaster of the first order" if it meant doubling the current 15% capital gains tax.
Doing so "would lead to a dramatic decline in the stock market which would affect every pension fund in the United States," Gingrich said in Miami, adding it would also drive investment overseas and "would be the most anti-jobs single step he could take."
Asked Wednesday for details of the 30% tax plan, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters: "I'm not going to give you a schedule of how a broad individual tax reform would break down and what impact it would have on capital gains or dividends."
CNN's Gregory Wallace, Laura Smith-Spark and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.