WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama touted his $447 billion jobs plan to voters in swing states Thursday after his vice president admitted the 2012 election would be a referendum on the sickly economy.
Obama gave interviews to local television stations in North Carolina and Florida, two states which he won in 2008, but where he is in a tough fight as the 2012 race gets underway.
"This is the worst financial crisis and recession that has existed in our lifetimes," Obama told Florida's WESH television, pressing Congress to act on his jobs bill which the White House says will create nearly two million jobs.
"Florida was hard-hit more than most when the housing bubble burst," Obama said. "The American Jobs Act puts construction workers back to work in Florida right now building schools, roads and ports," he said.
Obama described America as a "great country that has gotten a little soft" and said he was confident the country's young people could help haul the country out of its economic hole.
Florida, always a key battleground between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, is shaping up as a huge state in 2012.
According to recent polls, Obama holds a narrow lead over the frontrunners for the Republican nomination in Florida, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.
Vice President Joe Biden meanwhile caused controversy by admitting that though the financial crisis had erupted under former president George W. Bush, voters were mad at the current White House team as the pain was still being felt.
"Right now we are the ones in charge. It has gotten better but it hasn't gotten good enough. I don't blame them for being mad," he said.
"Understandably, totally legitimate, this is a referendum on Obama and Biden, the nature and the state of the economy," Biden said on WLRN radio.
"It is soon going to be a choice," he said, arguing that he and the president would do better in comparison to the eventual Republican candidate.
Obama and Biden will also seek to repeat his victory in the traditionally Republican state of North Carolina, which the president narrowly won from John McCain in 2008 but looks doubtful to cling onto in 2012.
"We're going to campaign actively in North Carolina," Obama told the state's WXII television station.
"I just love North Carolina ... it was very important to me in 2008 and it's going to be important in 2012."
The president again said Congress should pass his jobs act to ensure that "more people are working, the economy is stronger and people have more money in their pockets."
But many observers believe that the chances of the bill, key to restoring trust on Obama's economic leadership, making it unscathed through Congress are almost nil.
Republicans have said they may break up some parts of the plan, a mix of tax cuts and infrastructure spending, and pass them bit by bit, throwing the job-creating heft of the legislation into doubt.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney however said Thursday that he was confident that Congress would act on the plan, designed to tackle slow growth and 9.1 percent unemployment.
"I will buy everyone in here a drink if, by the end of this year, there is not action on the jobs act," Carney told reporters in the White House press room.
"Members of Congress will have a lot of explaining to do when they go home for the end-of-the-year recess if they've done nothing -- nothing -- to address the urgent need to help our economy and create jobs."