RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Today, President Obama will get to see how his stimulus plan plays in Peoria. He's been going around the country to promote the plan, and in Peoria, he'll make a pitch at a Caterpillar plant. Caterpillar was seen as a model American manufacturer with sales booming, but even Caterpillar has announced big layoffs, more than 20,000 jobs. NPR's Mara Liasson reports.
MARA LIASSON: This was the week the White House used all the tools in its kit to change the dynamic of the debate. After watching Republicans define the stimulus as wasteful spending and pork, the president decided to give a primetime press conference and make a series of campaign-style stops. On Monday, he went to Elkhart, Indiana, with one of the highest unemployment rates - on Tuesday, Fort Myers, Florida with the highest home foreclosure rate. And today...
BARACK OBAMA: I'm going to East Peoria, Illinois to visit a Caterpillar manufacturing plant to talk to these workers, because what's at stake here are not abstract numbers or abstract concepts. We're talking about real families that we can help and real jobs that we can save.
LIASSON: The advantage of having the president outside of Washington is that the public gets to see him interacting with real people, people like Henrietta Hughes, who came to his town hall meeting in Florida.
HENRIETTA HUGHES: I have an urgent need, unemployment and homelessness, a very small vehicle for my family and I to live in, and the housing authority has two-year waiting lists. And we need something more than a vehicle and pots to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help.
LIASSON: Mr. Obama waded into the crowd and gave Ms. Hughes a kiss.
OBAMA: Okay, Ms. Hughes. Well, we're going to do everything we can to help you.
LIASSON: Henrietta Hughes got some help, and that display of concern may have helped President Obama convince voters to give his plan a chance to work. Meanwhile, the campaign organization that fueled the president's victory in November was cranking into gear.
MITCH STEWART: We are, as an organization, going to continue the tactics that proved successful in the primary and in the general election.
LIASSON: That's Mitch Stewart, the new director of Organizing for America, formerly the Obama campaign. In a video email to the 13 million people who signed up on mybarackobama.com...
STEWART: We're just having friends talk to friends and neighbors talk to neighbors about issues they care about.
LIASSON: Stewart asked Obama supporters to host economic recovery house meetings to talk about the stimulus bill. And according to Stewart, there were more than 3,500 meetings last weekend. Independent groups also geared up to help. The union-backed Americans United for Change did something it had never done before. It ran ads praising Republicans, or at least the few Republicans who sided with the president.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)
Unidentified Woman: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are providing the leadership we need to get the job done. Senator Snowe and Collins have worked with President Obama to...
LIASSON: On the road this week, Mr. Obama tried to recapture a populist message, a message that had been undermined by the tax troubles of several of his Cabinet nominees.
OBAMA: You've got a guy who's making $20 million a year, who ran his bank into the ground, and now we've got to come in and clean up the mess. Now, that's something that - it just makes you mad.
LIASSON: Cleaning up the mess turned out to be the big misfire for the White House this week. At his press conference on Monday, Mr. Obama raised expectations for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's rollout of the bank bailout plan.
OBAMA: I want all of you to show up at his press conference as well. He's going to be terrific.
LIASSON: But Geithner wasn't terrific, and the administration was widely criticized for leading people to believe it had an actual plan to buy up toxic bank assets when, as a Washington Post editorial complained, all it really had was a concept.
In a bad day on the campaign trail, you might drop a point or two in the polls. On a bad day in the White House, the Dow can drop 382 points. Although Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday's big sell off would be the wrong way to measure the bank bailout plan.
ROBERT GIBBS: This is not going to be judged on the one day market reaction, but instead by what is best for the long term economic health of America.
LIASSON: Although the administration still has a lot of work to do on the financial bailout, President Obama could be savoring his first big legislative victory as early as tomorrow, when the stimulus bill comes to his desk.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
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