Obama packs up his travel schedule

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama is stepping up his travel outside Washington, D.C. as his election campaign shifts into gear.

On Labor Day, he flew to Detroit with union leaders and delivered a sharply partisan speech that showcased his support for blue-collar workers and the auto industry, and slammed Republicans as unpatriotic and beholden to the wealthy.

That trip came one day after he flew to New Jersey to tour flood damage, where he took time to spur criticism of GOP leaders as uncaring towards middle-class Americans.

His next trip will take him to Richmond on Friday, the day after his much-touted jobs speech to a Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 8. Virginia is a must-win state for Obama, partly because declining poll numbers are moving several Midwest states toward the GOP column.

“I do anticipate that over the course of the fall the President will spend a decent amount of time traveling across the country, talking to men and women in communities across the country about what he believes that we need to do to get our economy going,” Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Sept. 5.

At the events around the country, Obama is likely to spur coverage of his speeches by introducing additional proposals to boost job-creation or to slow growth of the national debt.  “People will see a president who will be laying very significant proposals throughout the fall leading up this next State of the Union,” Gene Sperling, director of Obama’s National Economic Council, said in an Monday interview with the Associated Press.

Texas Governor Rick Perry used a similar strategy in his 2010 reelection race, following a careful study by several academics of his 2006 campaign. Their research showed that local appearances by the candidate generated more friendly and more extensive media coverage, and a better response from voters, than did TV ads, media-mailings or press events from the state’s capital. The strategy is detailed in a pending book, “Rick Perry and His Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America.”

“Perry’s physical presence [in local media-markets] had a remarkable ability to drive coverage … [and] the local coverage of the of the trips was overwhelmingly positive,” according to a chapter of the book that was released early for sale. “Contributions went up in the cities that he visited, along with the number of new volunteers,” and the candidate was revitalized by the welcome crowds, according to the book.

The White House seems to agree with this strategy.

Just prior to Obama’s mid-August bus tour through Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters in a Aug. 12 press-conference that the president has instructed members of his cabinet “to go to rural America this year to listen and learn.”

(RELATED: Obama pitches partisan Labor Day message)

Obama’s poll numbers have dropped in those states, which are needed to help him get to 270 electoral votes in November 2012.

His deputies are likely picking their state visits with 2012 in mind. On Aug. 30, for example, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced she would tour North Carolina that day to inspect crop damage from Hurricane Irene, despite the fact that New Jersey and New York had declared state emergencies five and four days previously.

North Carolina is expected to be a critical swing state in the 2012 election. In 2008, Obama won it by a few thousand votes, partly because of an influx of Democratic-leaning Hispanics.

This outreach to state audiences is also being boosted by regional Democratic Party leaders. They’re being organized by the Democratic National Committee to criticize visiting GOP candidates vying for the parties presidential nomination. On Sept. 2, for example, Democratic leaders in Florida joined a telephone press conference with reporters in national publications, including the St. Petersburg Times, to criticize former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who was visiting the state.

In turn, their criticism was distributed by the DNC to political reporters in other publications serving different audiences.

White House officials have not provided details of the Virginia visit, or of future trips, but he will likely use the Virginia visit to repeat elements of his job-creation speech to Congress from the previous night.

He may also highlight his Sept. 3 approval of federal disaster aid for the state, as he did in his Sept. 4 visit to New Jersey. “The main message that I have for all the residents not only of New Jersey but all those communities that have been affected by flooding … is that the entire country is behind you and we are going to make sure that we provide all the resources that are necessary in order to help these communities rebuild,” he said.

But he also took time to criticize GOP leaders, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who had said earlier that emergency assistance should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. The federal government will likely have a $1.3 trillion deficit this year.

“I know that there’s been some talk about whether there’s going to be a slowdown in getting funding out here, emergency relief,” Obama said in his New Jersey speech, held at Temple Street Bridge, in Paterson, New Jersey. “As President of the United States, I want to make it very clear that we are going to meet our federal obligations — because we’re one country, and when one part of the country gets affected, whether it’s a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, or a hurricane that affects the Eastern Seaboard, then we come together as one country and we make sure that everybody gets the help that they need,” he said.

In mid-August, a poll of New Jersey voters by Quinnipiac University showed that Obama’s ratings in the state had dipped to 44 percent, down from 50 percent in June. Only 45 percent of New Jersey  respondents said he deserved to be re-elected.

Obama declined to answer questions from reporters, but did reiterate his partisan criticism when a shouted questioned asked about Cantor’s comments. “We’re going to make sure resources are here. All right?” he said as he walked away.

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