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Obama takes economic road show to Iowa, Virginia

By the CNN Wire Staff
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President Obama's backyard talk
  • NEW: Obama says Republican obstruction strategy has been effective
  • President tries to reassure people that future is bright
  • White House pushes economic agenda in cross-country tour
  • Obama meets with families in two states
  • Economic Issues
  • Barack Obama
  • Iowa
  • Virginia

Richmond, Virginia (CNN) -- President Barack Obama tried to assure skeptical questioners Wednesday that the future for America is bright despite high unemployment and a growing deficit as the nation slowly recovers from economic recession.

At separate town hall-style meetings in Des Moines, Iowa, and Richmond, Virginia, Obama heard concerns about people out of work, health insurance reform, the cost of war, taxes and the hostile political environment back in Washington, D.C.

He touted his administration's policies that he said prevented another Great Depression and got the economy growing again, but acknowledged that much more must be done to create more jobs and bring the kind of change he promised in his successful 2008 presidential campaign.

"I do want everybody to feel encouraged about our future," Obama said to applause at the end of the first hour-long event, adding: "We've been through tougher times before, and we're going to get through these times."

He called for "tough but necessary adjustments and changes in how we approach the future," saying: "All of us are going to have to pull together and focus not just on the present but the future. And if we do that, we're going to be fine."

The events were part of a four-state swing this week to allow Obama to publicize his accomplishments and focus on differences between policies of Democrats and Republicans in the run-up to the November 2 congressional elections.

In Richmond, Obama responded to a question about the continuing political incivility in Washington by acknowledging that changing the political culture there is hard.

He admitted to making mistakes, but also blamed what he called the calculated decision by Republicans to oppose his every step instead of trying to seriously work together.

"They said we're better off just saying no to everything, blocking everything," Obama said, adding that "from just a raw political point of view, it's been a pretty successful strategy."

The Republican obstruction left people frustrated and helped wipe out the goodwill generated in the 2008 election campaign, Obama said.

"A lot of the people who supported me are thinking about staying home" in the November election, he said. "I think the only way this is going to work is if the same folks who supported me in 2008 -- not just Democrats but independents and others -- don't sit on the sidelines."

On Tuesday, at a New Mexico event, Obama repeatedly urged people to consider the choice they faced for the upcoming election, saying Democrats offered progressive policies to rebuild America while Republicans sought a return to failed polices that favored big business and the wealthy.

The visit to Iowa came as a Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows 59 percent of Iowans are dissatisfied with how Obama is handling the economy, up 5 points from February.

Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses in January 2008 was the first big step towards his eventual winning of the Democratic presidential nomination. In the general election that year, Obama grabbed 54 percent of the popular vote in the state.

Now, 42 percent of likely Iowa voters approve of how he's carrying out his duties as president.

Some of that concern was reflected in the questions Obama faced in Des Moines. One woman told of her 24-year-old son who graduated with honors from college but can't find a job. Another wondered what would happen if her husband loses his job and they therefore lose their health insurance. A Catholic priest asked about a parishioner who is 55 with two kids in high school and out of work for more than a year.

Obama detailed the steps his administration has taken to deal with the economic crisis, highlighting specific bills or provisions that applied to the situations described in the questions.

The 24-year-old unemployed graduate can stay on his parents' health insurance policy under health care reform, he noted, and programs exist to help the 55-year-old unemployed man and his family while he gets new training for emerging jobs in clean energy and other industries.

Obama also walked a questioner through some of the provisions of the health care reform bill passed this year, attempting to clear up what he called misinformation about the measure.

The Republican National Committee criticized Obama for his campaign-style visit to the state.

"As Barack Obama's approval ratings plummet with Iowa voters, it's not surprising that the president would opt for an invite-only backyard photo-op to avoid being held accountable for his failed policies," RNC spokesman Bill Riggs said in a statement e-mailed to journalists.

Obama continued his criticism of Republicans, saying they "didn't really speak honestly to the American people about how we're going to get this country on track in the long term."

In particular, Obama cited calls by Republicans to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest people. The president proposes extending the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 for the 98 percent of Americans earning less than $250,000 per family or $200,000 as individuals, while letting the rates on higher income return to higher rates from the 1990s.

Extending the lower rates for wealthiest 2 percent of the country would reduce revenue by $700 billion over 10 years, Obama said.

"That's $700 billion we don't have, so we'd either have to borrow it to add to our deficit, or we'd have to cut spending," he said, adding, "You've got a choice to make. You can't say you want to balance the budget, deal with the deficit, invest in our kids, and have a $700 billion tax cut that affects only 2 percent of the population. You just can't do it."

With the elections looming, some Democrats also favor extending the tax cuts for all, and the Senate put off a vote on the proposal until after the November vote.

"We're not going to be able to solve our big problems unless we honestly address them," Obama said. "If we think our kids are important and the next generation is important, we've got to act like it."

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this story.