President Obama embarked on his three-day, three-state "rural economic bus tour" in Minnesota today, while Republicans unleashed a flurry of attacks on the trip as blatant campaigning at taxpayer expense.
"I am very pleased to be out of Washington," Obama said as he took the stage at a town hall event in Cannon Falls, Minn., about 45 miles southeast of Minneapolis.
Obama, tie-less with shirt sleeves rolled up, roamed microphone in hand as he reprised his economic stump speech of recent weeks. He heaped pressure on Congress to pass measures he says would spur job growth, such as a payroll tax cut extension and new infrastructure projects, and rallied supporters to join him in the cause.
"I'm here to enlist you in a fight," Obama said, striking tones reminiscent of his election campaign, "we are here to fight for the future of our country."
The Republican National Committee, which dubs the excursion Obama's "debt end tour," released a series of scathing Web videos and radio ads in three Midwest states, blasting the president for his handling of the economy.
"We're not going to stand idly by while this president perpetrates this fraud of a bus tour while using taxpayer dollars to spin his failure to put America back to work," RNC chairman Reince Priebus told reporters on a conference call from Cannon Falls.
Obama will hold similar events in Decorah, Peosta and Atkinson, Iowa, and Alpha, Ill., all billed by the administration as opportunities for the president to engage with average citizens in middle America and hear their ideas for spurring job growth.
"He says he's on a listening tour, so I'm going to talk to him," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a newcomer GOP presidential candidate, who is on an Iowa bus tour of his own.
"Mr. President, you need to free up the employers of this country to create jobs," Perry said, alluding to government regulation of businesses.
While Republicans cast the president's trip, coming on the heels of the Ames Straw poll, as political, the White House has defended it as an opportunity for Obama to meet with "real folks in real places" off the beaten path.
"The fact is that the president is not engaged in a primary election and he is doing what presidents do, which is go out in the country and engage with the American people, have discussions about the economy and other policy issues," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
"To suggest that any time the president leaves Washington it's a political trip would mean that presidents could never leave unless they were physically campaigning on their own behalf, and he's not; he's out here doing his job and meeting with the American people."