JAMESTOWN, N.C. (AP) - President Barack Obama sought Tuesday to recapture some of the bipartisan appeal that helped get him elected, while using the opportunity to assail GOP lawmakers for blocking his jobs bill.
Appearing in politically important North Carolina to promote his economic measures and his re-election, Obama promised he would work with GOP lawmakers on any serious plan they put forward to help get Americans back to work.
"I'm not the Democratic president or the Republican president. I'm the president," Obama said as the supportive crowd at a community college near Greensboro rose to its feet. The comment echoed Obama's 2008 campaign trail refrain about America being the "United States" and not simply a collection of red states and blue states.
Bipartisan rhetoric aside, Obama has had few discussions with the GOP about the $447 billion jobs bill that Senate Republicans blocked last week. The bill is being broken into pieces so Congress can vote on its individual components.
"We got 100 percent `no' from Republicans in the Senate," Obama said. "Now that doesn't make any sense."
He said the GOP's jobs plan amounts to gutting environmental regulations, increasing domestic oil production, rolling back Obama-era reforms of the financial system and repealing the health care law enacted last year.
"Now that's a plan," Obama said, "but it's not a jobs plan."
The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in turn accused Obama of accepting that the economy won't improve significantly by Election Day and trying to blame anyone but himself for it. McConnell said the public will figure it out.
"The president I think has become convinced that the economy is not likely to be much better a year from now. So he has started the campaign 13 months early and he's trying to convince the American people that it's anybody else's fault but his that we're where we are," McConnell said in Washington. "It must be the fault of those Republicans in Congress. It must be the fault of those rich people. It must be the fault of those people on Wall Street."
"I don't think the American people are going to fall for it. He's been the president now for three years," McConnell added.
The White House denies Obama is on a campaign trip. But immediately after his remarks, the president climbed aboard his sleek, million-dollar, Secret Service-approved black bus for the five-hour ride to Emporia, Va., where he was ending the day. The bus rolled to a stop a short time later at Reid's House in Reidsville, N.C., and the diverse crowd cheered loudly as Obama entered the restaurant for lunch.
The president worked the room, stopping to chat with one local couple who said they'd been married 59 years and joking that he and his wife, Michelle, had 40 years to go to catch up. He even complimented a local resident who said he worked in the funeral business, exclaiming, "Fantastic, that's important work!"
Afterward, Obama encountered Laketta Hussain, who was among a group waiting outside and was using a very old cell phone or a cordless phone to talk to her grandmother. Obama took the phone and spoke for a few minutes. "I'm doing good," he said, "except your granddaughter needs a new cell phone."
Obama is on the second day of a three-day tour through North Carolina and Virginia that is giving him a chance to sit back, 0admire the colorful fall foliage and bask in some small-town Southern hospitality - in addition to pounding on the Republicans.
"There's just something about North Carolina," he said Tuesday. "People are just gracious and kind. Even the folks who don't vote for me are nice to me." He recalled stopping for barbecue, sweet tea and hush puppies and playfully admonished the audience not to tell his health-conscious wife what he's been eating.
The stated purpose of the trip was to continue selling the jobs bill. But Obama is also selling himself, trying to pump up voters whose enthusiasm may have waned. That's particularly important in North Carolina, a state he wrested from Republicans in 2008 but that could slip from his grasp in November 2012.
To try to recapture some of his past appeal, Obama resorted to the retail politics often missing from the highly scripted White House.
Obama took his lunch of a cheeseburger, fries and sweet tea aboard his "decked out" bus and made a few unscheduled stops during the drive out of North Carolina and through Virginia along twisty backcountry roads past grain silos and fields of hay bales.