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Obama Starts Cross-Country Battleground Tour


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

The presidential candidates have yet to undergo one of the rituals of running for the nation's highest office. They have yet to publicly run themselves into the ground.

INSKEEP: In past years, Bill Clinton sometimes campaigned all night. Bob Dole went for 96 hours. George W. Bush could visit five states in one day. And John Kerry actually lost his voice.

MONTAGNE: This year, President Obama has a day job while Mitt Romney has generally, up to now, done fewer public events in favor of fundraisers and debate prep.

Now the pace accelerates for both men. Today, the president begins a cross country campaign trip that will take him to half a dozen battleground states in less than 48 hours.

INSKEEP: He was in Ohio yesterday. And in an answer to critics who say he hasn't laid out a big second term agenda, his campaign offered a summary of his plans.

NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama won this week's foreign policy debate in part by arguing that Governor Romney has been all over the map, saying one thing one day and something else a short time later. The president is trying to make the same case about his Republican rival's domestic polices. Whether it's taxes, school funding or birth control, he says, Governor Romney keeps changing his stripes.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You want to know that the person who's applying to be your president and commander-in-chief is trustworthy. That he means what he says. That he's not just making stuff up, depending on whether it's convenient or not.

HORSLEY: In Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Obama focused on the rescue of the auto industry and Romney's 2008 editorial opposing a government bailout, which was famously headlined "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

OBAMA: The people of Dayton don't forget.


OBAMA: The people of Ohio don't forget.


OBAMA: If Mitt Romney had been president when the auto industry was on the verge of collapse, we might not have an American auto industry today.

HORSLEY: Governor Romney notes that GM and Chrysler ultimately did go through a managed bankruptcy, similar to what he proposed. But Romney would have limited the government's role to guaranteeing private financing.

Former auto czar Steven Rattner calls that an utter fantasy, saying in the depths of the financial crisis there was no private financing to be had. Mr. Obama says under Governor Romney's plan, the U.S. might be buying its cars from China.

OBAMA: I wasn't about to let Detroit go bankrupt, or Toledo go bankrupt, or Lordstown go bankrupt. I bet on American workers. I bet on American manufacturing. I would do it again because that bet has paid off for Ohio and for America in a big way.


HORSLEY: Earlier, the president held a rally in Delray Beach, Florida, where he was introduced by a certain pizza shop owner, whose burly image went viral last month when Mr. Obama made an unannounced visit to his restaurant.

SCOTT VAN DUZER: You and the Secret Service might remember it from the bear hug I gave him.


DUZER: But I remember it more for the hope and the confidence that he gave me.

HORSLEY: As a small business owner, Scott Van Duzer told the crowd he's embraced Mr. Obama in more ways than one.

DUZER: I'm a Republican, but hold it there.


DUZER: Hold it right there. I voted for him four years ago, and you can bet - you know what - I'm voting for him again.


HORSLEY: Van Duzer says his business is better now than it was four years ago. Florida's unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, higher than the national average but well below its peak of 11.4 percent. Mr. Obama told the crowd of 11,000 yesterday the economy is not where it needs to be but its making progress.

OBAMA: Yes, we've been through tough times.

But you've never seen me quit.


OBAMA: And there's no quit in America.

HORSLEY: The Obama campaign echoes that message in a new TV ad. And yesterday the campaign released a glossy brochure, summing up the president's goals to boost manufacturing, decrease dependence on imported oil, and foster a well-trained workforce.

Most of the ideas in the plan are not new and any payoff is likely to be far in the future. But Mr. Obama has always taken the long view. Spotting a group of elementary school students along his motorcade route yesterday, the president called them over and offered a private pep talk.

OBAMA: I need you guys to make sure that you're doing your homework, listening to your teachers, and listening to your parents. OK? You going to promise to do that?


HORSLEY: If you do, Mr. Obama said, there's nothing you can't accomplish. You could be a doctor, a lawyer, an astronaut. Or you could end up being president of the United States.

Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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