With confidence in his handling of the economy reaching new lows, President Obama took a break Wednesday from campaigning to sit down in Ohio with a family and their neighbors and hold a town-hall meeting in their backyard - calling it part of his own effort to "stay in touch."
The pit stop at the Columbus, Ohio, home of Joe and Rhonda Weithman came as a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows 56 percent of Americans disapprove of Mr. Obama's handling of the economy, compared with 41 percent who approve. Those numbers mark an all-time low for the president on an issue that's dominating the discussion heading into November's elections.
Aware that voters aren't sold on his economic record, Mr. Obama has been trying to combat that sentiment with events like Wednesday's backyard town-hall meeting, where he implored voters to see the bright spots, saying that will help the recovery get going.
"What we're trying to do is create sort of a virtuous cycle where people start feeling better and better about the economy. And a lot of it's sort of like recovering from an illness: You get a little bit stronger each day, and you take a few more steps each day. And that's where our economy's at right now," he said.
With a treehouse in the background, Mr. Obama then fielded questions from a friendly crowd of neighbors gathered in the backyard of the Weithmans, whom he noted have both benefited from his $862 billion stimulus package - Rhonda used the government's extension of the Cobra program to hang onto her health insurance after she was laid off while her husband Joe's architectural firm has seen new work as a result of taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Obama's three-day fundraising blitz included a considerable dose of Republican-bashing. At an event for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland later in the afternoon, he employed his favorite analogy of Republicans driving the car into the ditch and then refusing to help Democrats as they push it out.
"Finally, we get this car up on level ground and it's ready to finally move forward. And we feel this tap on our shoulders, and we turn around and it's those Republicans, and they're saying, 'We want the keys back,' " he said.
Shooting back at the president, the GOP argued he is devoting more time to attacks than to policy solutions.
"Unfortunately, President Obama and his team have decided it is easier to attack me and my fellow Republicans than it is to change course and scrap the failed 'stimulus' policies that are hurting our economy and stifling job growth," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner wrote in the Troy Daily News on Wednesday.
"A nation in our fiscal condition should be spending less, not more. No one wants to see more job losses, which is why we must heed the advice of more than 100 economists and act immediately to cut government spending now and prevent the administration's plans for a massive tax hike on American families and small businesses from going into effect at the end of the year."
Republicans pounced on the AP poll, which also found that 61 percent say the economy has gotten worse or stayed the same under Mr. Obama's administration. But there were a few silver linings for the president, with his overall approval remaining the same at 49 percent and three-quarters of those surveyed saying it's not realistic to expect major economic improvements in a president's first 18 months in office.
Mr. Obama returns to the White House on Wednesday night after a money-raising blitz that will have taken him to five states in three days to campaign for Democratic candidates for governor, and Senate and House seats. Before Ohio, he visited Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Seattle, with a stop in Miami scheduled for later Wednesday.
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