Obama continues push for jobs plan near Greensboro
Posted October 18, 2011 11:48 a.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2011 6:02 p.m. EDT
Jamestown, N.C. — President Barack Obama sought Tuesday to recapture some of the bipartisan appeal that helped get him elected, while using the opportunity to assail GOP lawmakers for blocking his $447 billion jobs bill.
Appearing in politically important North Carolina to promote his economic measures and his re-election, Obama promised he would work with GOP lawmakers on any serious plan they put forward to help get Americans back to work.
"I'm not the Democratic president or the Republican president. I'm the president," Obama said as the supportive crowd at Guilford Technical Community College near Greensboro rose to its feet. The comment echoed Obama's 2008 campaign trail refrain about America being the "United States" and not simply a collection of red states and blue states.
Bipartisan rhetoric aside, Obama has had few discussions with any Republicans about the American Jobs Act that Senate Republicans blocked last week.
The bill, which he says would raise taxes for some of the nation's wealthiest and lower taxes for the middle class, is being broken into pieces so Congress can vote on its individual components.
"We got 100 percent 'no' from Republicans in the Senate," Obama said. "Now, that doesn't make any sense."
He said the GOP jobs plan amounts to gutting environmental regulations, increasing domestic oil production, rolling back Obama-era reforms of the financial system and repealing the health care law enacted last year.
"Now that's a plan," Obama said, "but it's not a jobs plan."
The White House denies Obama is on a campaign trip. But immediately after his remarks, the president climbed aboard his sleek, million-dollar, Secret Service-approved black bus for a five-hour ride to Emporia, Va. The bus rolled to a stop a short time later at Reid's House, in Reidsville, and the diverse crowd cheered loudly as Obama entered the restaurant for lunch.
The president worked the room, stopping to chat with one local couple who said they'd been married 59 years and joking that he and his wife, Michelle, had 40 years to go to catch up.
He even complimented a local resident who said he worked in the funeral business, exclaiming, "Fantastic, that's important work!"
Afterward, Obama encountered Laketta Hussain, who was among a group waiting outside and was using a very old cell phone or a cordless phone to talk to her grandmother. Obama took the phone and spoke for a few minutes. "I'm doing good," he said, "except your granddaughter needs a new cell phone."
Obama is on the second day of a three-day tour through North Carolina and Virginia that is giving him a chance to sit back, admire the colorful fall foliage and bask in some small-town Southern hospitality.
"There's just something about North Carolina," he said Tuesday. "People are just gracious and kind. Even the folks who don't vote for me are nice to me." He recalled stopping for barbecue, sweet tea and hush puppies and playfully admonished the audience not to tell his health-conscious wife what he's been eating.
The stated purpose of the trip was to continue selling the jobs bill. But Obama is also selling himself, trying to pump up voters whose enthusiasm may have waned. That's particularly important in North Carolina, a state he wrested from Republicans in 2008 but that could slip from his grasp next November.
To try to recapture some of his electoral appeal, Obama turned to campaign staples: barbecue, babies and barrels of candy.
Obama spent more than four hours Monday driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains, which were bright with red and orange fall leaves. He stopped in Marion, population 8,075, for lunch at Countryside Barbeque. He ordered at the counter — the barbecue platter and sweet tea — then spent more than half an hour shaking hands and having his picture taken with the lunchtime crowd.
The tech-savvy president even helped one woman figure out how to take a photo on her smartphone.
Obama had a close encounter with one baby boy: "I think you got some biscuit on me," he said as he handed the child back to his mother.
And he made personal appeals for his economic policies, telling one table of local businessmen about his call for $50 billion more in new infrastructure spending. He said, "We're going to have to do it eventually, so why not do it now?"
Obama's unscheduled stops aren't wholly impromptu. White House staffers typically scope out areas in advance and Secret Service officers arrive well ahead of the president.
But the stops are about as spontaneous as it gets for the president, and they afford him the freedom of personal, retail politics that's often missing in the highly scripted White House.
Obama's bus, which he said was "decked out pretty good," passed crowds of people lined up on the sidewalks of small towns and residents sitting on lawn chairs in their front yards. A group of schoolchildren gathered outside their classrooms, waving small American flags. A man pulled his car to the side of the road and saluted as the commander in chief sped by.
One woman held a sign reading "We believe. We voted. Now What?" That message underscored the challenge Obama faces as he seeks to rally his supporters ahead of the 2012 election.
Key to Obama's 2008 success in North Carolina was his campaign's ability to boost voter turnout among young people. And there were plenty of them in Boone, home to Appalachian State University, when Obama stopped Monday at Mast General Store.
The store was filled with barrels of candy, which Obama started grabbing by the handful — to help the White House prepare for Halloween, he said.