Towns on President Obama's Midwest bus trip hope to cash in on spotlight

Local officials hosting President Obama’s bus tour this week are hoping to cash in on the brief spotlight the large-scale event has cast on their small communities.
 
The mammoth event has stretched resources thin for the tiny towns hosting the presidential motorcade and thousands of spectators.
 

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Law enforcement officials are clocking overtime hours, and every local governmental department has been called upon to pitch in by cleaning the streets, hoisting hundreds of American flags, rerouting traffic and making security accommodations.
 
Still, officials told The Hill, the benefits of Obama’s visit are likely to outweigh the considerable costs.
 
“[It was] a mild inconvenience — and nobody’s done the numbers — but the overtime our people have put in will probably be balanced off, hopefully, by things like sales tax and hotel and motel taxes that come in from all of the visitors and the attention both immediate and in the long term,” said Gerald Freund, the city administrator for Decorah, Iowa, where Obama spoke on Monday.
 

Obama spent the night in Decorah (pop. 8,000) after landing in St. Paul, Minn., and traveling by bus to Cannon Falls (pop. 4,000), where he held a town-hall event. On Wednesday, the president is scheduled to speak in the towns of Alpha and Atkinson in Illinois.
 
Obama has focused his comments during the tour on criticizing Congress while touting his own proposals for creating jobs and boosting the economy.
 
Republicans have blasted the trip as a taxpayer-funded, extended campaign event.
 
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus on Tuesday said Obama should use his campaign account to pay for the trip, arguing the president was doling out talking points, not policy plans.
 
“No matter what the president says, his Midwest bus tour is nothing but a campaign trip,” Priebus said. “Rolling through the Midwest in a brand-new, million-dollar taxpayer-funded tour bus, the president is holding town halls to rally his disaffected supporters in states crucial to his reelection.”
 
The White House has defended the trip, saying it has given Obama the chance to visit small communities he would otherwise not have seen. They also insist the trip is not a campaign event, though it coincided with the Republican Ames Straw Poll in Iowa over the weekend.
 
Asked at a press briefing earlier this month whether it would be funded by taxpayers, Carney smiled and said, “He’s the president of the United States.” Pressed further about the trip’s details by another reporter, Carney said, “The air of cynicism is quite thick. The idea that the president of the United States should not venture forth into the country is ridiculous.”
 
Officials in the towns Obama is visiting don’t seem focused on the political debate. Instead, they describe a mix of community pride and hopes to cash in, if not on tourism, then on community spirit from hosting the leader of the country.
 
Atkinson Mayor August Junior, who said he took last week off from work when he learned Obama would be visiting his town of 972, has been mowing and weeding lawns all week and described the atmosphere as “very excited and proud.”
 
One local citizen donated nearly 1,000 flags to welcome the president into town, he said.
 
“I think we’ve already benefited from it as a community,” said Junior. “The camaraderie has been amazing.”
 
Atkinson is in a district represented by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), a freshman who defeated Democrat Bill Foster in 2010. Hultgren’s seat was once held by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R).

Aaron Reeves, the administrator for Cannon Falls, said the city’s Chamber of Commerce is planning to put together a strategic outreach plan to entice people to visit the 4,000-person community.
 
“They’re hoping to use a lot of the positive comments about the city that were made because of his visit,” he said.
 
Reeves said the city had some overtime costs associated with Obama’s visit but that they “always make sure we have some sort of cushion in there for unexpected events.”
 
“In looking at the numbers, we definitely think it was worth whatever overtime we might have to have the benefit of having the event in town and what it’s brought to the city,” Reeves said.