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Obama's three-day jobs tour: Did he connect with rural America?

Obama’s three-day bus tour of the Midwest wrapped up in front of mostly friendly audiences in small rural Illinois communities. The president talked of jobs, political pledges, and county fairs.

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“They’re polarizing the United States too much rather than coming together and doing the best for us,” Holmstrom says.

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A common complaint was that Republicans, and not the president, are preventing economic progress on the local front. There was little hope the tenor would change anytime soon.

“We need jobs. [Republicans] have been in there eight months. What jobs have they provided? They’re not going to support any jobs bill until October [2012] because they want to see him defeated,” says Kay Jenkins of Galva.

Jobs were the primary concern of the many union laborers in both audiences Wednesday. Many say projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped stimulate construction jobs in the area, such as the new fire station in downtown Atkinson. However, they say they fear Congress will prevent a continuation of even that progress.

“The anger is mostly towards Congress here, but it does spill out,” says Ron Hickey, a union laborer from Ottawa. “They’re playing around too much when they should compromise and get to work.”

As for those flags lining the route of the president’s motorcade, they were the product of Larry Eckhardt of Little York, who shows up in the area and plants them roadside whenever the body of a local war veteran returns home. Mr. Eckhardt has been doing this for five years in his free time as a retiree following years working at International Harvester.

Sporting a red, white and blue shirt, he says he is cheered by both the love of his country and Obama’s tenacity (“this man here is phenomenal”), but agrees with most interviewed here that Congress is working against the nation’s best interest.

“I wouldn’t have [Obama’s] job for $2 million and the idiots want to condemn him,” he says. “It’s time to get serious about getting our problems straightened out.”

Protestors were minimal at both events, represented by just the occasional sign (“one term president”) along the road. The primary criticism came from far outside the region, from local and national Republican leaders who mocked Obama’s appearances as merely speechmaking to help improve his failing poll ratings.

In a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, the Republican National Committee chair, Reince Priebus, based in Racine, Wis., said the president failed “to put together a jobs plan.”

“We have no engagement from the president. But, what we do have are forensic winning speeches,” Mr. Priebus said.

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Watch President Obama speak on his economic plan at a town hall meeting in Illinois:

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