Obama wraps Midwest bus tour in western Ill.

August 17, 2011 9:23:14 PM PDT
President Barack Obama wrapped up his Midwest bus tour in northwestern Illinois on Wednesday. He spoke at a pair of town hall meetings where he answered questions about jobs and the economy.

Obama tried to reassure citizens about the future of the economy, but a new Gallup poll found that the approval rating of his stewardship of the economy was only 26 percent.

The president started his day making an unscheduled stop at the Whiteside County Fair in Morrison, Ill., where he mingled with residents.

Illinois was the last stop on the president's three day tour that also included Minnesota and Iowa. He first spoke Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Atkinson before heading to Alpha to do the same.

It was a warm, western Illinois welcome for President Obama, who in tiny Atkinson continued the home state leg of a Midwestern bus tour.

"It is good to be back. Back home," said the president.

What the White House billed as an official "fact-finding" mission to the Heartland turned political early on as the president blamed congressional Republicans for what he called "brinksmanship" during the debt ceiling negotiations.

"There's nothing wrong with our country right now," Obama said. "There is something wrong with our politics."

"I want everyone to remember, we still have the best universities on Earth, the best workers on Earth, the best entrepreneurs on Earth, the best system on Earth," said Obama.

Tiny Atkinson -- population 1,100 -- lined the presidential motorcade route with over 1,000 flags. The town is building a new fire station with a $1.3 million stimulus grant. For decades, Henry County farmers have benefited from federal crop subsidy programs.

Residents from Atkinson and throughout Henry County lined up shortly after dawn to enter the town hall held in the local warehouse of a seed corn company.

"It's not every day that you're able to see a president who is residing in office at that time," said Mark May.

"I just think it's a neat thing. I've never seen a president. I've seen a vice president once, Dan Quayle, but I've never seen a president," said Lynne Weber.

From Atkinson, the presidential tour arrived at the Country Corner farmers market, about two miles outside of even smaller Alpha, Illinois.

"You are in the middle of the heartland," said hog rancher Doug Nelson.

In Alpha, as he did in Atkinson, the president claimed an improving economy, better than what he inherited, with a way to go until full recovery.

"When this country is operating off a common ground, nobody can stop us, but when we're divided then we end up having a lot of self-inflicted problems," Obama said.

But most in Obama's western Illinois audience say there is no recession in this part of the country. Grain and livestock prices are up. For them, the Obama years have been some of the best.

"It's a good time in agriculture right now. It may not be tomorrow, but right now it's one of the bright spots of the economy," said Nelson.

Near the end of his speech in Alpha, Obama returned to the political theme, with some advice for the warring parties in Washington.

"Think about country ahead of party - think about the next generation instead of the next election," said Obama.

Those with tickets to the event lined up early, each with a unique story about getting there.

"I'm a political science major, so this is really exciting," said Henry County resident Dane Barnett. "I was out in D.C. all summer, and I didn't see him once, so, I come home, and here he is."

The president's political opponents are criticizing his bus tour, calling the president the "campaigner-in-chief."

Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, is taking issue with the president's planned vacation to Martha's Vineyard as well as his current bus tour.

"Instead of offering solutions, he's offering speeches and bus tours on a Canadian bus paid for by taxpayers," Priebus said. "I mean, this is not a high school forensics speech contest."

The president's bus is made by the same Canadian company that supplied a bus to former Republican president George W. Bush on a similar tour as he ran for re-election back in 2004.

In 2008, Obama did not win Henry County, but he did hold his own in rural areas. That, perhaps, was the goal of his now-completed Midwestern tour.

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