In 2008, President Obama won North Carolina over Republican challenger John McCain by a fraction of a percentage point, and won the neighboring state of Virginia by a substantially wider margin.
However, recent polls in both states show the president struggling, with approval ratings in the low- to mid-40-percent range, reflecting the challenge he faces nationally.
On Monday, he began a three-day bus trip through those states. Like his trip through Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois earlier this year, he is using this one to generate more public pressure on Republican politicians he says are blocking his efforts for a balanced approach on job growth and fixing the nation's fiscal mess.
The Senate recently blocked Obama's $447 billion jobs bill. Now the president is pressing Congress to approve specific parts of it, such as $50 billion in infrastructure spending to add construction jobs to the economy.
The president's first stop: the regional airport in Asheville, North Carolina, which needs runway work.
"There is no reason why we should sit here and watch the best highways, and the newest airports being built in China," he said, underscoring the importance of his jobs bill and putting people back to work. "We should be building them right here in the United States of America, right here in North Carolina."
Obama said the U.S. Senate, which Democrats control, will consider separate parts of his jobs legislation, beginning with proposals to hire more teachers, police and firefighters.
Last week, Senate Republicans proposed their own jobs bill. Senator Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, urged Mr. Obama to call a jobs summit.
"If he [doesn't] like everything in [our jobs bill], there are some things that we probably could agree on and probably some things in his jobs bill we could agree on. It would be helpful for this country if Republicans and Democrats were called together to see if we could find a breakthrough," said Graham.
In North Carolina, the president again acknowledged criticisms he has been too eager to cooperate with Republicans, but said "it can't be all about politics, sometimes we have got to try to actually get something done."
However, he challenged Republicans, whose proposals he said amount to slashing regulations, rolling back financial-system reforms and repealing health-care reform, to explain why they oppose his job plans.
"If they vote against taking steps that we know will put Americans back to work right now, right now, then they're not going to have to answer to me, they're going to have to answer to you," he said.
Obama said a Senate vote on teachers and safety officers will be followed by others on infrastructure spending, support for unemployed Americans, and asking wealthier Americans to pay more in taxes to help the middle class.