WASHINGTON — It's the kind of trip President Barack Obama relishes — one that plays to his natural political abilities by taking him outside of Washington to mix it up with Americans in small towns and casual settings.
Obama embarks today on his first bus tour of the 2012 campaign as he seeks to pointedly stir up more questions about rival Mitt Romney's business record and subtly contrast himself with a Republican opponent who has struggled to connect with voters.
Dubbed the "Betting on America" tour, the two-day swing will take him through several northern Ohio communities that were critical to his 2008 win in the state and then to Pennsylvania for an event in Pittsburgh. Obama won both states four years ago, but Romney and Republicans are competing hard to win them. The president will campaign in both states as the nation's latest monthly job-creation assessment is released. Each state had an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent in May, below the national average of 8.2 percent.
Four months before the election, polls show Obama slightly leading Romney nationally and in several states that are critical in the hunt to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the Nov. 6 election. The race is close despite a topsy-turvy June that included the Supreme Court's decision to uphold Obama's health care law and its split decision on Arizona's 2010 immigration law.
The president's trip kicks off a new phase of his re-election campaign as he ratchets up his retail campaigning this summer before the September convention in Charlotte, N.C. Underscoring the stakes, Obama is forgoing his traditional summer vacation to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., to focus on the campaign, though he spent a long weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat.