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Obama Commences Bus Tour In N.C., Va.


President Obama traded Air Force One for a bus today as he set out on a campaign-style trip through North Carolina and Virginia. First stop: Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's always nice to get out of Washington...


OBAMA: ...and breathe some of that mountain air.


SIEGEL: The president is officially campaigning for his jobs plan, and he had a message for those in Congress who opposed it.

OBAMA: If they vote against taking steps that we know will put Americans back to work right now...


OBAMA: ...right now...


OBAMA: ...then they're not going to have to answer to me.


OBAMA: They're going to have to answer to you.


SIEGEL: President Obama isn't simply trying to sell his jobs plan on this bus trip, he's trying to make the case for his own re-election as well in two important battleground states at a time when his approval rating is as low it's ever been. NPR's Scott Horsley is on the road with the president and joins us now. And, Scott, President Obama's jobs plan failed to get through the Senate last week. In its current form, it's a nonstarter. Besides scolding those in Congress who shut it down, what did the president say about the future of his jobs plan?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, he's talking about cutting that indigestible $447 billion package down into bite-sized pieces, starting with the public works component. Moments after he landed at the airport in Asheville, he stood alongside a runaway that he says needs to be widened, needs to have its taxiway resurfaced, and he says these are the kinds of projects that could put construction crews to work using billions of dollars in federal tax money that's in his jobs plan. He's also talking about a piece of the plan would help local governments keep teachers and cops and firefighters on the payroll. That's no accident. These are pieces of the jobs plan that poll very well with the general public, even if the - as you say, the overall package failed to clear a hurdle in the Senate last week.

SIEGEL: And North Carolina is a state that's been hit quite hard by the economic downturn. How was the president's jobs message received there today?

HORSLEY: Well, he got a warm welcome in Asheville, which is a fairly liberal city that relies in part on tourism for its economy. But you're right. This state has been very hard hit. Its unemployment rate is 10.4 percent, eighth highest in the country. Charlotte, which boomed when banking was big business, has suffered with the downturn in banking, but also the rural parts of the state have suffered, and those are the parts of North Carolina that the president is traveling through by bus today.

He's hoping that with those - that high unemployment here, his jobs measure will resonate, and he's painting a very stark contrast with the idea that Republicans have floated, which are heavy on deregulation and repeal of its own health care plan, ideas which, he says, wouldn't help to create jobs in the short run. It's not likely to win him any, you know, converts for his jobs plan in Congress, but it may help him to give a talking point for the 2012 election.

SIEGEL: Scott, he's in the state, North Carolina, that he narrowly won in 2008. Does President Obama and his campaign strategists, do they think he can actually repeat that next year?

HORSLEY: It was very narrow in 2008, less than one half of 1 percent. And, of course, for 30 years before that, North Carolina had always been in the Republican column in presidential races. Mr. Obama won here last time partly thanks to some changing demographics, influx of more urban, more educated, more Democratic voters, but also by mobilizing a lot of young voters and African-American voters who not only went overwhelmingly for the president but also turned out in higher-than-average numbers.

And that's going to be really tough to recreate that kind of enthusiasm, but the Democrats are certainly trying. Of course, they're holding their national convention here in North Carolina next summer. They really want to broaden that electoral map.

SIEGEL: Well, thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley, who is traveling with President Obama today in North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.