By Mike Lillis - 07/05/12 10:00 AM EDT
President Obama launches a bus tour Thursday through two battleground states crucial to his reelection bid.
Obama’s focus during the trip through Ohio and Pennsylvania is the economy, and it begins a day before a critical monthly report on jobs — an event the White House is awaiting with some anxiety after May's figures fell far short of analysts' predictions.
Rather than sitting on his heels for those employment numbers, Obama's schedule hints at a campaign that wants to get out in front of any bad economic news that might be forthcoming.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the president will use the tour both to tout his economic recovery efforts and to attack Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, on his record atop Bain Capital, a private equity firm that's come under fire for buying up struggling companies and streamlining them, often by firing employees.
While some Democrats have criticized Obama’s assault on Bain, Obama and his campaign seem increasingly confident that the strategy will reverberate with voters — particularly white, blue-collar workers of Rust Belt states like Ohio and Pennsylvania — amid an economy where unemployment remains above 8 percent.
A Gallup poll this week found Obama increasing his lead over Romney to 48 percent to 43, something surely noticed at the president’s campaign headquarters in Chicago.
“Throughout the trip, he’ll talk with voters in their communities about what he’s done to bring the economy back from the brink, from investing in manufacturing to doubling down on the American worker to saving the auto industry and encouraging companies to bring jobs back to America,” LaBolt told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.
The two-day swing through Ohio and Pennsylvania is just the latest sign of the importance of the two states and their 38 electoral votes to Obama.
If Obama holds on to both, it will be difficult for Romney to overtake him in the Electoral College. Losing Ohio — where Obama launched his reelection campaign in May — would in particular be devastating to Romney. No Republican ever has been elected president without taking the Buckeye State.
Romney, who participated in a Fourth of July parade in New Hampshire on Wednesday, doesn't have any public events planned for the rest of the week. But, responding for this story, campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Obama has broken his 2008 campaign vow to put the country back to work — something no bus tour will change, she added.
“From day one of his administration, the president has pursued policies that have hurt job creators, hurt the manufacturing sector and left millions of Americans struggling to find work," Henneberg said Tuesday in an email. "It’s going to be hard for the president to argue Americans should gamble on a second term while on his bus tour."
By contrast, Henneberg added, Romney would “take immediate action to give job creators the confidence they need to begin hiring again.”
Obama could face difficult statistics by the time his bus tour concludes Friday in Pittsburgh.
Reuters on Tuesday said it expected the economy to add 90,000 jobs in June based on a survey of economists. That would be higher than the 68,000 jobs added in May, but not enough to significantly lower the national unemployment rate.
No president since Franklin Roosevelt has won reelection with an unemployment rate over 8 percent.
But Obama is hoping to convince voters things are turning for the better, and there is reason to think that argument could work in both Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have fared better than the rest of the country recently in terms of job creation.
Indeed, Ohio's unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in May, while Pennsylvania was at 7.4 percent — both well below the national rate of 8.2 percent.
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) this week credited Obama's economic policies for the state's relative success on the jobs front.
"In Ohio, we're seeing cranes and we're seeing highway construction, and quite frankly, much of that would not have been possible if we had not gotten the stimulus bill passed," Strickland told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. "He [Obama] bet on the American worker, and it paid off."
It remains to be seen if the region's voters agree.