(Refiles to fix typo in 10th paragraph - quote should read NOT
* Obama hits Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois in 3-day bus tour
* Trip tests campaign organization, grassroots support
(Updates with Obama remarks)
By Alister Bull
CANNON FALLS, Minn., Aug 15 President Barack
Obama blasted Republicans over taxes on Monday as he launched a
bus tour of the U.S. Midwest to tout his job-growth strategy
and distance himself from anger toward Washington that could
dent his 2012 re-election hopes.
The three-day trip takes him to Minnesota, Iowa and
Illinois, states he won in the 2008 presidential election,
although Iowa recently has been seeing a lot of Republicans
vying to battle him for the White House next year.
The White House says 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.
The tour also exposes the Democratic president to voters
who, polls suggest, are furious about political gridlock in
Washington as he begins serious campaigning for the November
"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."
Obama touted his job-growth agenda, which includes
extending a payroll tax cut, finalizing free-trade pacts and
authorizing infrastructure projects to create construction
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.
"That's just not common sense," Obama said.
Republicans slammed the trip as a taxpayer-funded "debt
end" bus tour and hammered Obama over high unemployment, record
national debt and the flagging economy.
Even some of Obama's fellow Democrats have expressed
frustration that the president has not promoted plans to boost
jobs growth more aggressively.
But that anger was not visible at his first stop, where
Obama was asked about education, his healthcare law and the
Social Security pension program among other topics, but took no
heat from the questioners about his economic leadership.
Obama was distracted for much of the summer by a divisive
debate over the debt and deficits that triggered a downgrade in
the U.S. credit rating and undermined the public's faith in
A Gallup tracking poll completed on Saturday showed Obama
with a 39 percent approval rating -- the lowest of his
presidency -- but recent polls have shown far lower approval
ratings for Congress.
Obama was headed next on Monday to Decorah, Iowa, then
holds a rural economic forum in Peosta, Iowa, on Tuesday and
town hall meetings in Atkinson and Alpha, Illinois, on
Wednesday before returning to Washington.
The unmistakable campaign style of the trip will help the
Democratic president test his organization and grassroots
support as the field of Republican presidential candidates
takes clearer shape.
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. [ID:nN1E77C04N]
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. [ID:nN1E77B1S7]
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. [ID:nN1E77D035]
Obama's trip followed a spate of bad news that has dented
confidence in his leadership, particularly after weeks of
bitter debate over raising the U.S. debt limit that exposed
deep partisanship verging on government dysfunction.
The leading ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the
country's AAA credit rating and fears of another U.S. recession
have grown, adding to investor concerns about Europe's ongoing
debt crisis. Stock markets whipsawed over the past week,
producing one of the most volatile periods of Obama's
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington;
Writing by Patricia Zengerle and Alister Bull; Editing by Vicki