SANDUSKY, Ohio — Campaigning by bus through swing state Ohio, President Barack Obama cast his re-election bid as a bet on the American worker Thursday, even as he braced for today's unemployment report that will help set battle lines for the hot summer to come.
The monthly unemployment numbers could alter or harden voters' views of Obama's core re-election argument that he pulled the United States back from recession while Republican Mitt Romney embraces policies that led to an economic near-collapse. A weak report could undermine Obama's position, while improvement could help the president — though concerns about jobs are sure to a major issue through Election Day.
Obama tellingly chose to start his summer of on-the-road campaigning in two political battleground states that have a rosier economic outlook than some parts of the nation. Both Ohio and Pennsylvania had unemployment rates of 7.3 percent in May, well below the national average of 8.2 percent.
"This is how summer is supposed to feel," Obama said, wiping sweat from his face he campaigned under scorching sun for four more years in office.
His trip through northern Ohio gave him a post-July 4 splash of Americana: Main streets and U.S. flags, cornfields and fruit stands, community soccer sign-ups and American Legion halls, small children climbing on fathers' shoulders to see the president's bus go by. Obama was greeted kindly wherever he went and bounded through his day, high-fiving the kids and hugging grandmothers.
Romney rolled his own bus tour through six states last month, including the two Obama is visiting this week. And more are certain to come in the next few months for both candidates.
As he kicked off Thursday's 250-mile trip in Maumee, Ohio, Obama said he had "refused to turn my back on communities like this one."
Romney, chiming in from his family vacation in New Hampshire, criticized Obama for hitting the road with "no new answers" on the economy.
The president claimed credit for Ohio's improving economy. The White House said the Obama-backed auto bailout helped increase sales of Chrysler's Jeep Wrangler and Liberty, made in nearby Toledo.
Obama said Ohio's economic gains could be replicated nationwide.
"There are some folks who are betting that you will lose interest, that are betting that somehow you are going to lose heart," Obama said. "I'm betting you're not going to lose interest. I'm betting you're not going to lose heart. I still believe on you, I'm betting on you."