President Barack Obama is ramping up a fresh phase of his re-election bid with a bus tour next week, focusing more on direct engagement with voters and less on ritzy fundraisers.
Obama's two-day road trip through Pennsylvania and Ohio, two key battleground states in the November election, kicks off July 5, a campaign official said. It will be the president's first bus tour of the 2012 campaign.
The bus trip also will coincide with the release of the monthly nationwide jobs report, a key economic indicator that could directly affect the president's re-election prospects. The most recent report, for May, showed a slight uptick in the unemployment rate, raising fears among Obamaaides of an election-year economic slowdown.
While Obama has been running for re-election for months, his efforts thus far have focused largely on hauling in cash from supporters in dozens of fundraising events across the country as his campaign seeks to compete with energized Republican donors. He spent the early part of this week on a two-day, four-state fundraising blitz that brought in more than $5 million.
The president will still headline campaign fundraisers through the fall, but the official said Obama's schedule would start to include more of a mix of campaign rallies and other events focused on speaking directly to a wide swath of voters in the states Obama needs most in order to hold the White House.
Further underscoring his strategy shift was his campaign's announcement this week that Jennifer Psaki, a former senior White House aide, was joining the president's re-election team as traveling press secretary.
Ohio and Pennsylvania, with 38 electoral votes between them, are crucial to the president's re-election bid. Obama won both states in 2008, but Republican rival Mitt Romney is expected to make a strong play for each.
Just over four months from Election Day, Obama aides consider Ohio a toss-up but believe Pennsylvania is leaning in the president's favor. Romney took a bus tour of his own through Ohio and Pennsylvania earlier this month.
A new poll by Quinnipiac University shows Obama holding a 9-percentage-point lead over Romney in Ohio, and a 6-point lead in Pennsylvania. Both states have improved their employment pictures in the past year. Ohio saw its jobless rate drop from 8.8 percent a year ago to 7.3 percent in May; Pennsylvania's rate fell from 8 percent to 7.3 percent in that time.
Obama has turned to bus tours before when he needed to reconnect with voters. Last summer, after a bruising fight with congressional Republicans that brought the government to the brink of fiscal default, the president hit the road for a Midwestern bus tour aimed at refocusing his presidency on the economic issues affecting the middle class. He followed it up with a fall trip through Virginia and North Carolina.
Rolling through swing states on a campaign bus allows Obama to engage in more of the informal, retail-style politics that can be hard to achieve in the highly scripted White House. Between his scheduled events, the president is sure to make surprise visits to restaurants and small businesses or stop to greet voters gathered on the side of the road to watch his motorcade.
Obama's itinerary for the bus trip was still being finalized, but the official said the president probably would hold events in northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The official insisted on anonymity in order to discuss details of the trip before an official announcement from the campaign.