* Obama urges Congress to "do the right thing"
* Republicans see Obama strategy based on bashing them
(Changes dateline to MILLERS CREEK, adds fresh quotes)
By Matt Spetalnick
MILLERS CREEK, N.C., Oct 17 President Barack
Obama sought on Monday to turn up the heat on Republicans for
blocking his jobs bill as he started a campaign-style bus tour
across states vital to his 2012 re-election chances.
Hitting the road again, this time in North Carolina and
Virginia, Obama struck a populist tone and argued that Congress
should pass at least parts of his $447 billion jobs package
that was defeated as a whole last week.
"We're going to give members of Congress another chance to
step up to the plate and do the right thing," Obama told a
cheering crowd at the airport in Asheville, North Carolina, the
starting point for his three-day trek in a black armored bus.
As Senate Democrats prepared to force a vote this week on
one of Obama's jobs proposals, which would give states money to
employ teachers, the president mocked the Republicans who had
blocked his original bill.
"Maybe they just couldn't understand the whole all at once.
So we're going to break it up into bite-size pieces so they can
take a thoughtful approach to this legislation," he said.
The president's strategy is to force Republicans to accept
his proposals or be painted as obstructionists getting in the
way of economic recovery as campaigning for the November 2012
presidential and congressional elections heats up.
"I need you to give Congress a piece of your mind," he told
about 2,000 supporters packed into a high school gymnasium in
Millers Creek, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains.
"Tell them what's at stake here. There are too many of our
fellow Americans hurting and you can't stand by and do nothing.
Now is the time to act," he said.
Republicans saw Obama's jobs package as laden with wasteful
spending and counter-productive tax hikes for wealthier
Americans who tend to be entrepreneurs and job creators.
Their disagreement has extended the deadlock that brought
the United States to the edge of sovereign default in August
when Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on deficit cuts
as part of a deal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling.
That impasse makes it unlikely that any major steps to spur
hiring will be passed before the 2012 election, when Obama will
be judged for his economic stewardship.
TOUGH ROAD IN 2012
The White House billed Obama's trip -- his second bus tour
through small-town America since he visited the rural Midwest
in August -- as a chance to reconnect with ordinary citizens.
His itinerary spans two traditionally conservative states
he won in 2008 but which polls show he is in danger of losing
in his bid for a second term. North Carolina is also site of
the Democratic presidential convention next summer.
But the White House said the bus tour was official business
with all costs covered by taxpayers, not from Obama's campaign
Onlookers lined the streets in front of gas stations,
fast-food restaurants and shopping malls as Obama's bus, with
dark-tinted windows and red and blue flashing lights, led a
long motorcade across the green, rolling hills.
Some cheered and snapped photos with their cellphones but a
few turned their thumbs down as the string of vehicles passed,
and others held protest signs including one reading: "No more
massive government spending programs. They don't work."
The bus tour is taking place well over a year before the
election, during a period when incumbent presidents generally
are spending their campaign time raising money.
Obama's focus on retail politicking at this stage suggests
he realizes he has a tough road in 2012 and has to start early
to hammer home his message that Republicans are refusing to
join with him in finding ways to fix the U.S. economy.
In Millers Creek, Obama derided the jobs plan Republicans
presented last week as an attempt to roll back environmental
standards and Wall Street regulations without having the
wealthy pay any more taxes to help those struggling.
But Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House of Representatives
Speaker John Boehner, said the Republican ideas that would
require a balanced budget, promote foreign trade and push
offshore energy exploration would have a more meaningful jobs
impact than the "sugar high" of Obama's recommended stimulus.
Buck also questioned why Obama was on the road and not
working with lawmakers to find compromise. "This bus tour looks
a lot like the kind of political game the president has said
the American people are tired of," he said.
At a Southern barbecue restaurant where Obama stopped for
lunch, diners expressed mixed views of the Democrat's record.
"This isn't 'Obama Country' but I voted for him once and
I'll vote for him again," said Howard Ward, 76, a retired
textile manager. "He's doing the best he can with jobs. But
it's going to be very close in this state in 2012."
An elderly woman sitting nearby shook her head as she ate a
barbecue chicken sandwich. "He hasn't done anything to fix the
economy. He doesn't deserve a second chance," she said.
(Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis, Thomas Ferraro and
Steve Holland; Editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman)