Obama won all three states in the 2008 presidential election, although Iowa has recently played host to Republicans vying to battle him for the White House next year who have been criticizing his record for ballooning U.S. deficits.
The crowds Obama faced on Monday were pretty friendly, and many of the questions were challenging him to take a tougher line against Republicans. Obama touted his job-growth agenda, which includes extending a payroll tax cut, finalizing free-trade pacts and authorizing infrastructure projects to create construction worker jobs.
And he targeted Republicans for refusing to compromise on fiscal issues. He cited a debate last week among eight Republicans vying for the party’s presidential nomination in which all said they would not consider allowing even a $1 increase in government revenues — through taxes or fees — for every $10 in cuts.
“There is nothing that we’re facing that we can’t solve with some spirit of America first, a willingness to say we’re going to chose country over party,” Obama said before taking questions from a friendly crowd of 500 at a town hall-style meeting on a riverbank.
Acknowledging “a lot of folks were feeling a little anxious and distressed” after the wild stock market swings last week, Obama said that restoring a spirit of compromise would do a lot to improve confidence in the economy.
“You’ve got to send a message to Washington that it is time for the games to stop, it is time to put country first,” he said. “This is a political crisis.”
According to White House, Obama is on a listening tour to hear from Americans about the economy and talk about how to boost jobs and hiring. With U.S. unemployment mired at just above 9 percent, jobs are expected to be the central issue for voters in next year’s presidential and congressional elections.
White House spokesman Josh Earnes said: “The president views it as one of the chief responsibilities in office to spend some time outside Washington, D.C., talking to people all across the country about the economy and about how they’re impacted by the policy decisions that he’s making here in Washington, D.C.”
The trip has been touted as purely an official visit, but Republicans see it as a pre-emptive strike by Obama to begin his re-election campaign to win over the three states that he won back in 2008 that have recently seen increased Republican representatives. The Republican National Committee labeled the trip Obama’s “Debt-End Bus Tour.”
It’s interesting to note that, relatively speaking, Minnesota and Iowa are doing OK on the jobs front. Both have had unemployment rates below 7%, while the nation as a whole is dealing with joblessness north of 9%.
Illinois has also had unemployment above 9% — but it is Obama’s home state, and he carried it with nearly 62% of the vote in 2008 against John McCain.
On Tuesday, Obama will hold a rural economic forum in Peosta, Iowa, just hours after the Republican candidates for President, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, held an informal debate Sunday night.
“These are tough times for a lot of Americans — including those who live in our rural communities,” Obama will tell a townhall meeting in Peosta, Iowa, according to prepared remarks.
On Wednesday, he will visit Atkinson, and Alpha, Illinois before returning to the White House. Thursday he will join his family on their annual vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Iowa, which launched Obama’s journey to the White House in 2008, has recently been playing host to Republican presidential hopefuls who have been criticizing his record as they crisscrossed the state.
Bachmann on Saturday won the Iowa straw poll, an early test of strength among the Republican candidates. Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the race for the Republican nomination on Saturday and immediately joined early front-runner Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann in the top tier of candidates in the field.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty became the first major casualty of the 2012 campaign when he dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on Sunday after a disappointing showing in the Iowa straw poll. [via Reuters, USA Today and International Business Times]