Thursday, March 19, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - President Barack Obama, facing considerable resistance in Washington to his budget and stimulus plans, is shifting into full-blown campaign mode, using new and old presidential tools to rally Americans to his side.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Obama held two town hall meetings in California before adoring crowds that waited hours to see him. He scheduled a White House press conference for Tuesday, enlisted the grass-roots aid of his formidable online network of supporters, and planned an appearance on Jay Leno’s late-night talk show, by some accounts the first time an incumbent president has gone on such a program.

The strategy underscores his faith in his campaign skills, and the high stakes of his ambitious budget and stimulus agenda, whose failure would deliver a severe blow to his young administration.

All presidents use Air Force One and their powerful _ and portable _ pulpit from time to time to try to overcome resistance in Congress or key portions of the electorate.

Obama seemed to particularly relish his escape from Washington this week. He literally rolled up his sleeves in front of 1,300 cheering people Wednesday in Costa Mesa, Calif., and portrayed himself as a populist crusader against powerful interests that don’t care about them.

“Now, there are those who say these plans are too ambitious,” he said of his budget proposal, which would make dramatic changes to health care, energy, education and tax-and-spending priorities. “‘Obama’s trying to do too much,’ they say. ‘Just focus on Wall Street, focus on the banks.’ Well, I say our challenges are too large to ignore.”

The crowd roared its approval in a setting that had all the trappings of a fall campaign event, right down to someone shouting, “I love you, Obama!” and the president replying, “I love you back.”

Such valentines, however, won’t necessarily smooth Obama’s path when he returns to Washington. Congressional Republicans feel the administration blundered badly by allowing executives of the mostly nationalized AIG insurance firm to receive big bonuses, and it has emboldened their opposition to his budget and stimulus plans.

“The AIG situation underscores the fact that Washington isn’t doing anything to help our economy,” House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio said Thursday. “The president’s budget spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much from our children and grandchildren.”

Obama has problems within his own Democratic Party as well. Some powerful Democratic lawmakers oppose his bids to nip farm subsidies and leave employer-paid health benefits untaxed, among other things.

The White House is fighting back with nearly every arrow in its quiver. Obama’s 13-million-person e-mail list, which helped him win the 2008 election, is now essentially controlled by the Democratic National Committee. The group is mobilizing the force, asking supporters to lobby for Obama’s policies.

More so than in the past, Obama this week portrayed himself as a self-sacrificing man of the people, willing to forgo a second term if that’s what it takes to right the economy, make health care more affordable and modernize the nation’s energy policies.

“I didn’t run for president to pass on our problems to the next generation,” he told the Costa Mesa crowd. “I ran for president to solve these problems so that you’ve got a better shot at life.”


Associated Press writer Mark S. Smith contributed to this report.

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