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Facing headwinds, Obama courts 'real America'

By Josh Lederman

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - With 2 1/2 years remaining in his term, President Barack Obama has been blocked by Congress and is running out of steps he can take on his own to achieve his goals. So the White House is trying to maximize Obama's exposure to "real Americans," hoping that more intimate and less scripted interactions will remind struggling citizens why they voted for him in the first place.

A poignant letter from one of those Americans prompted Obama to fly to Minnesota to spend time Thursday with Rebekah Erler, an accountant and mother of two whose tale of financial struggle made its way to Obama's desk, one of the 10 letters from Americans that Obama reads each night.

As he joined Erler, 36, for burgers under dim neon lights advertising beer at Matt's Bar, her quest to do right by her family despite economic headwinds animated the president's rallying cry for Washington to pay attention to the plight of the American middle class. It's a popular theme for Democrats in a midterm election year.

Answering questions from the community later at a Minneapolis park, Obama said it was discouraging that Americans watching the news see Washington debating issues that have little to do with their lives. It must feel like being forgotten, he said.

"It's not like I forget," Obama added. "You're who I'm thinking about every single day. Just because it's not reported in the news, I don't want you to think that I'm not fighting for you."

In her letter to Obama, Erler wrote about her husband's struggles to find a reliable job, the high costs of groceries and childcare, and the burden of paying off student loans. Obama said those challenges, while pervasive, are ones the government can help address.

Obama's aides said the visit marks the start of a "Day in the Life" tour in which Obama will visit communities across the country, putting human faces on economic policies that he and Democrats are championing. Obama spent just a short stretch of time with Erler over lunch, not unlike similar stops he's made on many previous trips outside Washington.

Still, the tour comes as Obama is increasingly stepping "outside the bubble" of the White House, mingling with people during surprise visits to hamburger shops, coffee joints and even a Little League game. Obama's aides say the shift is not coincidental.

"We've been here a long time now," Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's senior adviser, said in an interview. "You can't do the same things over and over again. In this cluttered media environment, it's harder to break through."

Aiming to cut through the clutter, Obama ditched his motorcade at dinnertime in nearby St. Paul, where he ducked in and out of boutique shops and chatted up pedestrians in the type of impromptu excursion that gives the Secret Service nightmares. He spent nearly $90 on apple chips, jam and other edibles at a fine foods shop, then treated his staff to ice cream down the street.

Yet Obama's efforts to show he still relates to everyday American life also put a fine point on the harsh political realities confronting the president.

Nearly two years into his last term, Obama's approval ratings are sagging. His ability to set the agenda is quickly fading as Washington becomes consumed by the midterm elections and then, in 2016, the race to replace Obama. And despite a booming Wall Street, the recovery has yet to filter down to many of the middle-class families hit hardest by the recession.

At the same time, the speeches, news conferences and White House appearances that used to command primetime coverage are no longer attracting attention as interest in Obama wanes.

"The president can do all the policy he wants," said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. "If he doesn't feed the beast with a heart-rending story showing his policies in action, it doesn't work very well anymore."

Obama's strategy also dovetails with advice Democrats are hearing from pollsters as they gird for a tough midterm election. In a strategy memo this week, veteran pollster Stan Greenberg urged Democrats to spend more time on an "in your shoes" economic message, focusing on workplace issues that resonate well with unmarried women and other key voting groups.

Obama isn't the first president to try to boil down his agenda into humanizing, individual stories.

Lyndon Johnson had his famous "Poverty Tour," with the iconic images of the president surrounded by rundown shacks and barefoot boys. And Ronald Reagan sought person-to-person interaction through letters, phone calls and personal visits, having learned from his movie career that "you have to stay in touch with the box office," Brinkley said.

"I've been really looking forward to getting out of D.C.," Obama said, musing aloud about a potential ice cream stop. "I don't know, I'm just going to make it up as I go along."

Obama's two-day trip to Minnesota was to continue Thursday evening with a fundraiser benefiting House Democrats. On Friday, Obama planned to highlight his push to increase the minimum wage at a waterside band shell before returning to Washington.


Associated Press writers Brian Bakst in Minneapolis and Nedra Pickler and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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coopdabomb June 27 2014 at 5:43 AM

Another photo-op fro the great snake oil salesman osama obama. What did this trip cost?

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8 replies
jrb359 June 27 2014 at 6:34 AM

He has lied more than any other president and has no credibility. The people want jobs, a lower debt, and an improved economy. We need someone that cares about America. Unfortunately, those things are NOT on the Progressive agenda.

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12 replies
rmweld June 27 2014 at 7:58 AM

Won't work this time. If Obama were truly concerned about the American people, he would resign.

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13 replies
anderson June 27 2014 at 7:29 AM

Dear Bammy Osama Mohammad Obameee............America is now officially sick of you..........throwing up all over the place...........we want you OUT of OUR White House.........your lease is up........and Mitch the Bit-h and the kids......'n dog......
Your house of cards is crumbling....
Your lies have caught up with you....your new press secretary, your DOJ........Eric is done turkey.......
hillary is on the ropes.......she can't continue to cover her lies.....in or out of politics
Time to take a walk back to the south side of Chi town Barry..........
Perhaps you can take over the mayors job.

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9 replies
nanzbh June 27 2014 at 7:50 AM

Those who voted fro Obama in the last election simply were not paying attention to current events.

Flag Reply +72 rate up
12 replies
dave silveri June 27 2014 at 7:42 AM

I think I'm gonna puke, as this waste of flesh makes me sick. PERIOD!!!!!!!

Flag Reply +70 rate up
2 replies
LewTag dave silveri June 27 2014 at 10:30 AM

dave...back at you brother..

Flag Reply 0 rate up
ualfriend dave silveri June 27 2014 at 12:00 PM

yes you have a mentel problem

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
epicmale ualfriend June 27 2014 at 12:23 PM

A typical libgressive's response is illustrated by the lack of punctuation and capitalization, along with a grossly obvious misspelling.

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jeffclarko June 27 2014 at 7:17 AM

Minnesota DOESNT LIKE YOU EITHER!!!!!!!!!!! GO AWAY!!!!!

Flag Reply +65 rate up
3 replies
pllove49 June 27 2014 at 6:49 AM

I think this country has went crazy...no one cares about working citizens or the ones unemployed

Flag Reply +51 rate up
4 replies
mvnup June 27 2014 at 6:54 AM


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1 reply
eaglephoenix2 mvnup June 27 2014 at 2:08 PM

desperation knows no shame

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1 reply
welcome butch eaglephoenix2 June 27 2014 at 9:12 PM


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bbwiththeo June 27 2014 at 2:20 PM

Obama has never been exposed to "real Americans," he grew-up in Indonesia where he was schooled in muslim madrasa.

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2 replies
john bbwiththeo June 27 2014 at 2:22 PM

That's a flat out lie and no one believes that anymore. He was on his H.S. basketball team and has pictures in the yearbook.

You guys never quit with this. Give it up, he is as American as you!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
bronbronco27 john June 27 2014 at 2:46 PM

Why don't you make some compelling comments of your own instead of running down the line sniffing everyone's butt and then biting it with some biased idiocy?

Flag +6 rate up
dtate38 bbwiththeo June 27 2014 at 2:30 PM

No John, you are wrong. I will not say you are lying, but I will say you are ignorant of the Obama's past. He did go to school in Indonesia where his mother was living at the time with her second husband. The basketball pictures you are referring to were taken while he was living in Hawaii and going to school. You need to read Obama's book and account of his past as he tells it.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
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