Obama on the offensive

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PEOSTA, Iowa (AP) - Seeking some help from rural America, President Barack Obama on Tuesday implored Iowans to share ideas with him about how leaders can give an economic jolt to the nation's heartland. He promised better days in a time of relentless joblessness, saying, "We'll get through this moment of challenge."

The president pulled into this northeastern Iowa town with some modest announcements of federal support, include targeting loans to rural small businesses and recruitment of more doctors for small rural hospitals. But he seemed more intent on getting some guidance himself, and presenting himself as a president who does not think Washington knows best.

"I'm looking forward to hearing from you about what else we can do to jumpstart the economy here," Obama told the farmers, business owners and others gathered at Northeast Iowa Community College for an economic forum put together by the White House. The president even took part in breakout sessions.

By the end hours later, Obama was praising the locals for being practical and realizing that government was neither the source of all their ills nor a savior, but a source of help. It was all a way for the president to immerse himself in people's real-life problems and get away from his own political ones in Washington.

The political backdrop was the same rural state where Obama's first run for the presidency took flight. On an official bus tour through the Midwest that in every way felt like a re-election campaign trip, the president was crossing Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois over three days before heading on a summer vacation.

In terms not heard from Obama in some time, he sounded nostalgic, and thankful for the escape.

"You're what gives me strength," the president said.

"As I was driving (through) those little towns in my big bus, we slowed down and I'm standing in the front and I'm waving. I'm seeing little kids with American flags, grandparents in their lawn chairs ... and passing churches and cemeteries, corner stores and farms," he said. "I'm reminded about why I wanted to get into public service in the first place."

Earlier, opening the forum, he took another shot at Republicans in Congress for what he called a harmful practice of putting party above country.

The presidential campaign, meanwhile, continued to shadow the trip.
Just down the road in Dubuque, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has jumped into the Republican race to oust Obama, said the president's bus tour was a folly.

"We know what the problem is: we're being over-taxed, over-regulated and over-litigated," said Perry, having lunch with voters at a riverfront brewery.
Obama, for his part, sought to identify with the work ethic and community pride of the picturesque region. He said a big American comeback won't be driven by Washington.

"It is going to be driven by folks here in Iowa. It's going to begin in the classrooms of community colleges like this one," Obama said. "It's going to start on the ranchlands and farms of the Midwest, the workshops of basement inventors, and storefronts of small business owners."

Obama's second day on the road once again took him into the rolling northwestern section of Iowa, a carpet of green corn and occasional sunflower fields that ultimately broke into the Mississippi River. He stopped for breakfast in Guttenberg with five business owners then drove through Dyersville, home of the Field of Dreams of baseball movie fame. The motorcade passed groups of onlookers, most curious residents displaying neither signs of protest or support.

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