Obama bus tour sets sights on rural America
By Ken Thomas ,AP
August 15, 2011, 9:40 pm TWN
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama has headed to Midwestern states critical for his re-election, after a summer of discontent over a protracted debt showdown with Republicans and the downgrade in the nation's credit rating.
Obama's bus tour, his first as president, began Monday and will take him to prairie communities in Minnesota and through Iowa and Illinois, with stops in the farmland and rural towns that launched his first White House bid.
The former Illinois senator is expected to tell audiences that he agrees with their frustrations about a dysfunctional federal government.
"What we've seen in Washington the last few months has been the worst kind of partisanship, the worst kind of gridlock — and that gridlock has undermined public confidence and impeded our efforts to take the steps we need for our economy," Obama said Thursday in Michigan. "It's made things worse instead of better."
Obama won a clean sweep in 2008 of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan, a region that has supported Democratic presidential candidates since 2000, except for President George W. Bush's narrow victory in Iowa in 2004.
But Obama's standing in these states, like elsewhere, has grown precarious as the economy has slumped.
Republican governors are now in charge in three of those five states and Obama's approval rating, as measured by Gallup, is hovering around 50 percent in most of the region.
"We got a president who got a decrease in the credit rating of our nation, and that's because our president simply doesn't understand how to lead and how to grow an economy," Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said in Thursday's candidates' debate in Iowa.
Romney and his Republican rivals blamed Obama for the growth of the federal deficit and the credit downgrade by Standard and Poor's, the first in the nation's history.
Nationally, Obama's approval rating is comparable to President Ronald Reagan's ratings in August 1983. But recent Gallup polls found that Obama's approval rating was hovering between 44 percent and 49 percent in 10 states closely watched by his political advisers. Those states include Iowa, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida.
Obama's standing with independents, who helped him win in traditionally Republican states such as Indiana and North Carolina, has fallen, too.
"The country is in an unbelievably angry mood," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.
While considered official White House travel, the bus tour will put Obama in campaign-like settings with small-business owners and workers in rural areas.