President passes through region

For Scott Anderson, President Barack Obama's message hit home.

The 34-year-old construction worker from Asheville has been out of work for almost a year and listened Monday as Obama touted his jobs bill, which is stalled in the Senate.

The president said the package would turn around the troubled economy, creating tens of thousands of jobs for teachers, police officers, firefighters and construction workers.

"This is what the country needs," said Anderson, a father of three.

"The people in Washington fight with each other all the time. They never think about what's good for the people. What's good for working people. They don't know how tough it is for a lot of folks out here."

Obama made his pitch for a jobs bills before an enthusiastic crowd of about 2,000 people at the Asheville Regional Airport. It marked the beginning of a three-day bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia.

The president's motorcade even passed through Hickory, leading Catawba County residents to line U.S. 321 to wave as he passed.

The president told the crowd on an airport runway that he was going to break up his jobs bill into smaller parts and ask Congress to approve them individually.

Noting that Republicans in Senate rejected consideration of his whole $447 billion plan, Obama sought anew to turn that vote against them.

"Maybe they just couldn't understand the whole thing at once, so we're going to break it up into bite-size pieces," Obama said.

After his speech near Asheville, Obama left on his bus, stopping for lunch in Marion at Countryside Barbecue, where he had a small barbecue plate and sweet tea. He then stopped by a Mast General Store in Boone, filling up a basket with candy before his speech at West Wilkes High School in Millers Creek.

Wilkes County Schools Superintendent Stephen Laws introduced Obama by thanking him for the stimulus, which he said saved America. Laws said his district had to cut more than 100 jobs in recent years, but that figure would have been much higher without federal help. He said supporting the president's job bill is just as important.

"''Do whatever you can whatever it takes to bring jobs to America, to North Carolina and to Wilkes County," Laws told Obama.

Obama planned to spend the night in Greensboro before giving a speech at Guilford Technical Community College today. His bus is then scheduled to travel to stops in Virginia.

Obama won both states in 2008, and they are important to his re-election strategy. But Obama didn't mention the election, telling the crowd near Asheville after they chanted "four more years" that he is more worried about the next 13 months.

"Too many people are looking for work," he said.

Later, he told the Wilkes County crowd why he likes visiting North Carolina so much.

"Even the folks that don't vote for me are nice," Obama said.

Republicans denounced the bus trip as nothing more than a taxpayer-funded campaign trip through two must-win states to try to bolster his standing for the 2012 election.

Obama kept up his strategy of taking his case to voters, saying that a recent poll showed public backing for his proposals.

He told his audience that when Republicans in the Senate voted against his bill, "essentially, they said no to you."

Obama's speech was tailored to voters like Anderson, a Democrat who forms a critical part of his base. Without their support, the president would face tough sledding in his re-election bid.

North Carolina's overall economy has been hit hard, with unemployment edging into double digits, state government shedding thousands of jobs and news that Charlotte-based Bank of America has plans to lay off 30,000 workers.

The president's jobs plan would help with that because it includes transportation and infrastructure improvements that provide jobs and improve lives. Besides creating jobs, the package cuts payroll taxes for small businesses in half, a move that would help 170,000 small businesses in North Carolina.

Anderson said the president has to "keep up pressure on Congress."

"He needs to keep fighting for working people and we'll stand behind him," he said.