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Obama gets back on the bus to push jobs act

President Obama climbs back on board his big, black armored bus this week to shore up his popularity in a couple of battleground states and revert to Plan B in his campaign to pass a $447-billion jobs package, focusing on specific elements of the bill that he wants Congress to approve right away.

Obama’s American Jobs Act was blocked by Senate Republicans and two Democrats in a procedural vote last week, setting in motion a plan to salvage the bill by breaking it up and submitting it piece by piece.

In a bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia, Obama will zero in on a part of the jobs plan that would provide $35 billion to states, cities and towns aimed at keeping public employees on the job.

“It’s the president’s view that they should take up first the proposal that’s included in the American Jobs Act to help communities rehire teachers, police officers and firefighters,’’ said Josh Earnest, the White House’s principal deputy press secretary, in a conference call with reporters Sunday. “That’s where he believes the process should get started. And he believes that process should start this week.’’

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Obama’s three-day bus tour, which begins Monday, will take him to schools, firehouses and airports in two states that will be fiercely contested by the parties in 2012. Against a backdrop of crowded classrooms and aging infrastructure, he’ll also call for passage of another component of the jobs plan – a $50-billion blueprint to shore up the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and tunnels.

At his first stop in Asheville, N.C., for example, Obama will highlight an airport runway renovation project that would be eligible for assistance if the jobs plan were passed, the White House said.

It doesn’t seem coincidental that Obama is concentrating on a part of the map that was central to his commanding electoral college victory in 2008.

Obama won North Carolina by the slimmest of margins. Still, he was the first Democratic presidential candidate to capture the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976. And he put Virginia back in the Democratic column for the first time since Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964.

Pulling that off again won’t be easy. Obama’s poll numbers are dropping, largely because of the weak economy. His jobs bill represents the last, best chance he’ll get before the election to put the economy on a more promising track.

The White House says the trip has no connection to the campaign and will be paid for by taxpayer funds.

Asked why the president chose two battleground states for the tour, Earnest said Obama had traveled widely in making the case for his jobs package.

Two weeks ago, Obama touted the bill in Texas, safe Republican territory. But he has also taken his message to other states that loom large on the 2012 map, including Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

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“After the three-day tour,’’ Earnest said, “the message to the American people and to Congress will be clear: Pass the bill, this week, to protect the job of a North Carolina teacher. Or come down here, look her in the eye and explain to her why protecting the current tax rate for millionaires and billionaires is more important.’’

Obama will once again ride in the hulking $1.1-million bus that made its public debut in August, when he embarked on a bus tour through the Midwest.

The White House describes the bus as an important addition to the fleet, providing secure communications even as it allows Obama to safely visit smaller communities not normally part of a president’s itinerary.

One potential downside for the White House is that as a multi-wheeled object of public curiosity, the bus is that rare presidential vehicle that has the potential to overshadow its passenger.

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