STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
ARI SHAPIRO, Host:
And I'm Ari Shapiro filling in for Renee Montagne.
INSKEEP: Ari is our White House correspondent, which means, Ari, that you were watching last week when a woman at a town hall meeting burst out with frustration at President Obama, and said that she was tired of defending him.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: At a rec center in Richmond, Virginia yesterday, President Obama confidently declared the country's economy is stronger now than it was a year ago. But he admitted for too many Americans, that statistical improvement rings hollow.
BARACK OBAMA: People are still hurting economically. Even though things have gotten modestly better, you've still got millions of people out there who are out of a job. You've still got hundreds of thousands of folks out there who are losing their homes. I hear from them every day.
HORSLEY: Throughout this trip, Mr. Obama argued the nation's economic problems didn't begin with the subprime mortgage mess, or the collapse of Lehman Brothers. For the last decade, he said, the U.S. had seen the slowest job growth since World War Two, and median income actually fell by five percent.
OBAMA: Middle-class families were generally having a very difficult time even before the crisis hit. And obviously the crisis just made things worse.
HORSLEY: But that focus on long-term challenges seemed out of synch to some who came out to hear the president this week, in a series of backyard conversations. For David Pacheco in Albuquerque, halting a wave of foreclosures is a more immediate concern than improving failing schools.
DAVID PACHECO: I know education is truly incredible. I mean it moves people beyond what we can ever expect. But if we don't have homes to go to, what good is the education?
HORSLEY: In Iowa, Mary Steer's college-aged son was one of Mr. Obama's biggest supporters two years ago, inspired by the candidate's promise of a brighter future. Steer told the president her son's been out of college for the last year and a half though, and he still hasn't found a good job.
MARY STEER: He and many of his friends are struggling. They are losing their hope, which was a message that you inspired them with.
HORSLEY: At an outdoor rally in Madison, Wisconsin this week, Mr. Obama warned supporters they can't afford to sit this election out.
OBAMA: We can't let this country fall backwards because the rest of us didn't care enough to fight.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
OBAMA: The stakes are too high for our country and for your future. And I am going to get out there and fight as hard as I can, and I know you are too, to make sure we keep moving forward.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
HORSLEY: I asked the president's political advisor, David Axelrod, if Mr. Obama is in danger of making the opposite mistake - focusing so much on long-term improvements, that he loses the support of people who are hurting now.
DAVID AXELROD: What the short term ramifications are, we'll find out on November 2nd. But I do think that elections are choices. Increasingly the American people are focusing on that choice.
HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
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