South Boston va: US President Barack Obama headed deeper into the 2012 race on Tuesday as he toured electoral battlegrounds of the South, underscoring how long and tough his re-election campaign is likely to be.
The second day of Obama's slow-rolling journey on a campaign-style bus, billed by the White House as part of his nationwide push to get own his jobs proposals past Congress, remained focused on courting voters in politically pivotal North Carolina and Virginia.
"The most important thing I wanted to do was to hear from people like you, because it doesn't seem like your voices are being heard in Washington right now. Times are tough for a lot of Americans," he told a crowd of 2,000 in Jamestown, North Carolina.
The US Senate may vote this week on the first part of the package, to create or save 400,000 jobs for teachers.
Obama is using the road trip not only to test out a sharper, more populist message as he seeks a second term but also to gauge whether the two traditionally conservative states he won in the 2008 election can stay in his column in 2012.
All indications are it could be a daunting task for Obama, whose poll numbers have fallen to the lows of his presidency amid public discontent over the stalled US economy and high unemployment.
The bus tour is taking place more than a year before the election, a time when incumbent presidents generally are spending their campaign time raising money.
"The stronger that an incumbent is the more time they have to stay off the trail. Obama is under immense pressure to solidify his support," said Julian Zelizer, a professor at Princeton University.
Obama, whose re-election may hinge on his ability to spur hiring, is pressing Republicans back in Washington to pass his $447 billion jobs package in "bite-size pieces" after they shot it down as a whole in Congress last week.
The Senate may vote as early as this week on the first part of the package, a $35 billion measure to create or save 400,000 jobs for teachers, police officers and firefighters, funded by 0.5 per cent surtax on millionaires.
Obama's strategy is to force Republicans to accept his proposals or be painted as obstructionists in the way of economic recovery as campaigning for the November 2012 presidential and congressional elections heats up.
Republicans, who see Obama's plan as laden with wasteful spending and job-killing tax hikes on wealthier Americans, say the Democratic president is playing electoral gamesmanship.
"As the only person elected to represent every American, the president should speak for all Americans, especially in times of crisis, not divide them for short-term partisan political gain," said top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell.
The impasse has extended the deadlock that brought the United States to the brink of default in August until Democrats and Republicans agreed on the outlines of a deficit-cutting plan as part of a deal to raise the US debt ceiling.
As Obama's black armored bus rolled along, there was little denying the shift into full campaign mode in what political experts see as must-win states for him next year.
Sandwiched between speeches in which he made full-throated attacks on Republicans, there were choreographed stops, like Obama buying Halloween candy at a family-owned store, and presidential moments, like when he lifted a 1-year-old from his mother's arms and pronounced him a "good-looking boy."
But North Carolina's mixed views on the president's record were also on display during a lunchtime stop at a diner in Reidsville, where Jerry Talley's green John Deere cap caught Obama's eye, who paused to chat and shake hands.
After Obama had moved on, the 63-year-old retired high school principal, who now works part-time as a landscaper, said his support for Obama was wavering.
"I was for him at first. Right now, I'm not so sure. I'm waiting to see what he does with the economy," he said.
After crossing the border into Virginia a short while later, Obama got a stark reminder of the mixed -- and even conflicting -- views on his record in another swing state.
As his motorcade slowed through the small town of South Boston, Virginia, dozens of supporters on one side of the road cheered, some shouting his 2008 campaign motto "Yes, we can!"
On the other side, a smaller but just as vocal group booed and held aloft signs that said "Hope is on the way -- No-bama 2013" and "Never again." One man turned thumbs down as Obama's entourage drove past.
North Carolina and Virginia had been solid Republican strongholds until Obama carried both states in 2008, but polls now show him in danger of losing them.
A recent Elon University poll put Obama's approval rating at 42 per cent in North Carolina, where Democrats will convene their presidential convention next summer.
A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed Obama's approval ratings at 45 per cent in Virginia and put Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Herman Cain in a statistical dead-heat with him in a theoretical matchup.