WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama clambers back aboard his campaign bus on Monday, to clock up more miles on his crusade to force Congress to pass his jobs plan and to ease his own perilous political plight.
His sleek, armored bus will spend three days cruising Virginia and North Carolina — traditionally, southern, conservative territory, but states which he nudged into the Democratic column in his 2008 White House triumph.
Obama’s bus tour, a fabled ritual of American politics, will be his first since Republicans and several moderate Democrats blocked the passage of his $447 billion jobs plan in the Senate.
“We’re going to give them another chance. We’re going to give them another chance to spend more time worrying about your jobs than keeping theirs,” said Obama in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday.
“We can’t afford this lack of action and there is no reason for it. Independent economists say that this jobs bill would give the economy a jumpstart and lead to nearly two million new jobs.”
Top White House officials believe Obama is liberated when he swaps Washington’s poisoned atmosphere for the road, especially on a bus tour that can reach rural areas off limits to the presidential entourage on Air Force One.
In a previous bus trip in August through Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, Obama roadtested political messages he will use as he seeks a second White House term at a time of deep economic gloom and high unemployment next year.
“It is a very positive thing for the president — and I would argue any president — to get out of Washington and to talk to Americans around the country,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“He felt that was the case on his first bus trip, and he looks forward to the one we’re taking next week.”
White House officials and Democratic leaders in Congress are now seeking to break the jobs bill, a mix of infrastructure spending and tax breaks, into pieces to try to thrust at least some of the legislation into law.
“We want votes on all the component parts, and that includes putting up to 280,000 laid-off teachers back to work,” Carney said.
“It includes putting idle construction workers to work rebuilding our bridges and highways and schools — renovating our schools.
“It includes extending and expanding the payroll tax cut to everybody — every American who gets a paycheck.”
The White House hopes to force Republicans, who oppose what they see as another failed round of stimulus spending, to take tough votes on issues like raising taxes for millionaires and funding to keep cops and firefighters at work.
Obama will begin his tour on Monday in Asheville, North Carolina — a town of 800,000 people at the foot of the Appalachian mountains, and a town where he has vacationed with his family.
On Tuesday, making stops along the way, he will travel to Jamestown, North Carolina, and Emporia, Virginia. On Wednesday, he will be joined by his wife Michelle in Langley, Virginia and make further rural stops.
Although Obama won Virginia in 2008, and narrowly squeezed by Republican nominee John McCain in North Carolina, recent polls show that his prospects are uncertain in 2012.
A Quinnipiac poll last week showed him losing Virginia, which four years ago he became the first Democratic candidate to win since 1964, to possible Republican nominee Mitt Romney by a single point.
In North Carolina, where Democrats will convene their presidential nominating convention next year, Obama led Romney by a single point in a PPP poll last week.
In both states, Obama will seek to reconfigure his 2008 coalition of young voters, educated middle class voters, minorities and African Americans.
But his standing among white middle class voters and independents, also important voting blocs in each state, has fallen since 2008, especially as national unemployment has stayed stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent.