President Barack Obama is in the U.S. midwest on what the White House calls an economic bus trip through politically important states as he ramps up campaigning for the 2012 presidential election. The president faces some new poll numbers reflecting deep worries Americans have about the economy.
At stops across the country, Obama has frequently said that while Americans voted for divided government in Washington, they did not vote for a "do nothing" government.
He is amplifying this theme on this trip, urging support for balanced solutions to the nation's fiscal woes and contrasting his approach with that the Republicans, particularly those in the conservative Tea Party, took in recent debt and deficit negotiations.
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In his first stop in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, which was last visited by a president in 1928, Mr. Obama repeated his criticisms of political brinksmanship in Washington.
"We have got a politics, in which some folks in Congress, not the folks who are here, but some in Congress would rather see their opponents lose than America win," said President Obama. "We ended up creating more uncertainty and more damage to an economy that was already weak."
The president faced mostly friendly questions from a supportive crowd of about 500.
Obama repeated criticisms of Republicans for their approach in the debt negotiations. He underscored his position that programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid need to be strengthened, but not radically changed and urged people to pressure Congress.
"You have got to send a message to Washington that it is time for the games to stop, it is time to put country first," said Obama.
The White House said there is no direct link between the president's trip and the recent "straw poll" in Iowa, a Republican preference vote won by Minnesota Congresswoman, and Tea Party lawmaker, Michelle Bachmann.
But President Obama needs to raise support in midwestern states important to his re-election hopes, as Republican presidential candidates step up their attacks on his handling of the economy.
The current Republican front-runner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney issued a political video showing Minnesotans, including Joseph Bromley, criticizing the president on the state of the economy. "In the last election, I voted for Barack Obama, and I just feel that I can not [now]," he said.
Campaigning in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, Romney continued to criticize the president's economic policies.
"Twenty-five-million Americans [out of work or underemployed], home values still going down, three years into the president's four-year term, home values going down, record foreclosures," said Romney.
U.S. unemployment remains above the nine-percent mark. Underscoring American's worries about the economy, a new Gallup Poll shows President Obama's job approval rating at 39 percent, a new low for him, although other presidents have struggled with similar numbers in their first term.
Mr. Obama's schedule included a similar town hall later in the town of Decorah, Iowa.
On Tuesday, he conducts a rural economic forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta, and has two events on in Illinois.
At his appearances on Monday, President Obama pointed to a commentary published Monday in The New York Times by billionaire Warren Buffett, who he consults on economic issues.
Saying the U.S. Congress should "stop coddling the super rich" Buffett called for raising taxes immediately on Americans earning more than $1 million.
In the difficult compromise with Republicans for a debt and deficit, Mr. Obama called for eliminating tax loopholes for wealthy Americans and has called for Congress to extend tax advantages for the middle class.