US President Barack Obama sets out to shore up his fragile political standing Monday, launching a bus tour through key Midwestern states which will resonate with voter anxiety over the economy.
Obama will spend three days trekking through Minnesota, Iowa and his adopted home state of Illinois, all of which he carried in the 2008 election, and which he can ill afford to lose when he seeks a second term next year.
The White House said Obama, weakened by a debt showdown with Republicans, a lagging economic recovery, 9.1 percent unemployment and questions about his leadership, wants to listen to voters after weeks stuck in the capital.
“The president is excited at the opportunity to get out of Washington,” said his communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
“During the debt ceiling debate we were trapped here, it felt like, for many, many weeks.
“He’s looking forward to traveling back home to Illinois, Minnesota and also, of course, to Iowa, which is a place that always has had a special connection with this president and his White House.”
Iowa is the state where Obama rose from obscurity and won the first Democratic nominating contest against Hillary Clinton in 2008, setting him on course for the presidency.
It is also the epicenter of the accelerating race for the Republican nominating race to take him on in 2012 among candidates who are savaging his record on the economy and job creation.
Rick Perry, who shot to the top tier of the Republican pack when he jumped into the race at the weekend, will also be on the stump in Iowa on Monday.
Tea Party favorite, Representative Michele Bachmann meanwhile is also on the attack, vowing to make Obama a one-term president after winning the state’s closely-watched Republican Party straw poll on Saturday.
Obama will hold two town-hall style encounters on Monday, one in rural Minnesota and one in Iowa, which will for the first time put him head-to-head with Perry, a possible general election foe who is the conservative governor of Texas.
As he set out, the White House, battered by a grim August, got an unwelcome reminder of Obama’s perilous political plight, as his approval rating dipped below 40 percent in a Gallup daily tracking poll for the first time.
In recent weeks, Obama has been particularly discomforted by a decision by ratings agency Standard and Poor’s to cut the top notch AAA credit rating amid fears disfunction in Congress will hamper efforts to trim the US deficit.
A staggering 74 percent of Americans think the country is moving in the wrong direction, according to a RealClearPolitics polls average, and a CNN survey this month found 60 percent think the economy is still in a downturn.
Just a few months ago, after the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, many commentators were predicting Obama would stroll to the second term that every presidency needs to be considered a historic success.
But when Republican Tea Party lawmakers drove the United States to the brink of a default in a row over raising the government’s borrowing authority, Obama’s prestige took a severe hit.
Some critics in his own party have complained that the president is too fixated with cooperating with Republicans who have made no secret of their desire to destroy his presidency.
Stuck in a political bind, with few obvious measures available to stimulate the recovery back to life, Obama seems to have recognized his perilous position.
“We can no longer let partisan brinksmanship get in our way — the idea that making it through the next election is more important than making things right… That’s what’s holding us back — the fact that some in Congress would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.”
The president has promised a package of measures to tackle the US deficit and unemployment within weeks, but its prospects in the Republican House of Representatives appear uncertain.
For now, he is demanding Republicans pass an extension to a payroll tax cut, endorse his plan to help Iraq and Afghan war veterans find jobs and ratify trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.