As President Obama hits the road for his first campaign bus tour of the 2012 election season, here are six things to watch during the two-day, two-state trip:
1. MESSAGE: OBAMA, A BETTING MAN
Claiming anyone running for president, much less Mitt Romney, is “betting against America” might seem far-fetched. After all, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden often remind voters that Romney is a “patriotic” family man whose well intentions are not in doubt.
But that’s exactly the case Obama appears poised to make about Romney at stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to two campaign surrogates, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Pennsylvania state Democratic Party chairman Jim Burn.
“President Obama is betting on America, not against it,” said Strickland on a conference call with reporters ahead of Obama’s trip.
“I point once again to the auto industry and its importance in Ohio. Not only was Mitt Romney against assistance to the auto industry, so was Sen. Rob Portman and so was current [Republican] Gov. John Kasich,” he said, noting the state’s below-average and declining unemployment rate.
Romney “bet against American workers,” added Burn. “President Obama knows that when you bet on American workers, it’s a bet that always pays off.”
The polarized pitch is an effort to shore up support among the president’s blue collar base and convince swing voters that the Republican doesn’t have their interests at heart.
2. ITINERARY: OFFENSE OR DEFENSE?
President Obama’s itinerary across northern Ohio into western Pennsylvania covers friendly turf that he won comfortably in 2008, as ABC News’ Chris Good noted. There will be no forays into “red,” Republican-leaning counties to directly confront potentially persuadable voters.
Even so, Obama campaign officials reject the notion that this is a purely defensive trip, noting that many of the media markets associated with stops along the way also cover counties that voted for John McCain.
Given the mid-summer doldrums in the news cycle, Obama’s appearances will grab headlines across local TV stations and newspapers, boosting his statewide exposure while spreading his anti-Romney message.
Democratic strategists have already credited their local media campaign of the past few months with bolstering the president’s poll numbers in swing state match-ups with Romney.
3. COMPANIONS: THE LONELY ROAD
While Romney included his wife and sons on a bus tour last month, Obama will be trucking solo today and Friday with only the company of aides and the U.S. Secret Service.
First lady Michelle Obama and the Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha, significant assets to the president’s campaign, likely won’t be deployed on the trail as an entire family until later this summer, although they already have appeared together in TV and Web advertising.
For now, Michelle Obama will continue an aggressive but largely independent schedule of campaigning. She’s headlined 36 solo fundraisers this year and attended close to a dozen events with grassroots supporters. On Tuesday, she’ll be back on the trail in Orlando, Fla., and Miami, a campaign official said.
The first couple last campaigned together in New York City on June 15, when they attended a splashy fundraiser at the Manhattan home of actress Sarah Jessica Parker and a gala at The Plaza Hotel.
“This is what qualifies as date night in the Obama household,” Obama told the crowd of donors of his rare public appearance with his wife.
4. MENU: ICE CREAM – “Yes, PeCAN”?
Nothing says campaign season like an ice cream social with a political candidate. Obama will host his first of the year in Sandusky, Ohio, this afternoon at Washington Park, just across the bay from the iconic Cedar Point amusement park.
No word on what flavor(s) will be served, but if organizers really wanted to keep POTUS happy in the heat, they might include a pint of his favorite flavor: pecan. (Remember Ben & Jerry’s “Yes, PeCAN” flavor concocted in honor of the 2009 inauguration?)
As for the optics of ice cream on the trail, ABC News Political Director Amy Walter noted, “What a president eats says something about how he sees the future prospects for the country. Ice cream cone = sunshine and happy days.”
5. ROMNEY REBUTTAL: PAWLENTY, JINDAL BUS TOUR
Republican former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal – both possible vice presidential picks – will be shadowing Obama as he treks across the Buckeye State today. You won’t be able to miss them: Theirs is the bus traversing the interstates between Toledo, Ohio, Cleveland and Pittsburgh emblazoned with “Romney for America.”
Their message will be that Obama suffers from a “promise gap” – a wide divide between what he told voters in 2008 and the reality of 2012.
“He made a promise on nearly every critical issue of the day – employment, energy, health care, housing and the deficit – that our lives would be better off today if his policies were enacted,” wrote Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in a memo ahead of Obama’s visit.
“By his own standards, he has fallen far short on each and every issue,” they wrote. “And by his own admission, such shortcomings are cause for Americans to make his presidency a ‘one-term proposition.’”
6. WILD CARD: JUNE JOBS REPORT
When Obama wakes up in Akron, Ohio, on Friday morning – the mid-point of his bus tour – he may be in for a message-eclipsing (or message-boosting) jolt. The Labor Department will release the June employment report at 8:30 a.m. ET.
The news last month that the U.S. economy created only 69,000 jobs rocked the presidential race and put the Obama campaign on the defensive. Another weak report could further complicate the president’s bid for a second term.
The trend lines don’t look good: The economy added 275,000 jobs in January and 259,000 in February, but the pace slowed to 143,000 in March, down to 77,000 in April and 69,000 in May. Economists expect between 80,000 and 100,000 new jobs in June with unemployment steady at 8.2 percent.
A report that meets or exceeds those expectations would help the president argue that his economic plans are yielding progress and continuing a positive job growth trend over the past two years.