DECORAH, Iowa - With ample stops for pie and pictures with schoolkids, President Barack Obama motored into Iowa on Monday on the heels of Republicans wanting to take his job, saying that he'll challenge the GOP to enact a package of ideas to get the economy moving again next month.
The president also defended his willingness to cut deals with congressional Republicans, such as on the debt ceiling and on tax cuts at the end of 2010 - both of which angered many in his Democratic base.
The president spoke to several hundred people at Seed Savers, a non-profit co-op north of Decorah that saves and shares heirloom seeds. Many in the audience were seated on the grass on a sloping hillside as a casually dressed Obama took questions.
Not all of them were softballs, either.
One woman who said she had supported Obama in 2008 said he had compromised "key principles" in negotiations with Republicans, citing the extension of tax cuts, including on the wealthy, at the end of 2010 and on the debt ceiling deal.
Obama defended himself, saying if he hadn't agreed to extend tax cuts at the upper end, it would have led to tax increases on middle-income Americans. And on the debt ceiling, he said, it was a unique situation.
"I didn't want to risk the livelihoods and the well-being of millions of people," he said. "I know it's frustrating because the other side's unreasonable."
The aim of the bus trip is to talk about the economy, and Obama will convene a rural economic development forum today in Peosta, west of Dubuque.
The administration also will announce expansion of a small business investment program aimed at helping to encourage investments in rural operations and provide critical access hospitals with funds to bolster their staffs.
During remarks Monday, Obama said there are a number of initiatives that can help the economy now, from passing trade deals to reforming the patent system.
He noted that while he compromised on the debt ceiling talks, his attitude will be different when it comes to the economy when Congress returns from the August recess. "My attitude is, ‘get it done,'" he said.
Republicans were ready to greet Obama before his bus crossed the border from Minnesota into Iowa. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus said the president's policies have made the economic struggles even worse.
"Make no mistake, this is Barack Obama's economy, and the only way to turn it around is to make Barack Obama a one-term president," he said.
Inee Beninga, who lives just a few miles from Seed Savers, said she supported Obama in 2008, though she's not "totally happy" with his performance.
Still, she said he is having to work with a Republican congress that fights him.
"I understand it's an uphill battle," she said. "It doesn't matter what comes out of his mouth, they slam him."
For Beninga, it's not the economy that's at the top of her priority list, but the environment and marriage equality.
The administration has said that despite coming just two days after Republican presidential candidates took part in the high profile straw poll in Ames over the weekend, the trip is not a campaign swing.
Still, the backdrops were evocative of the 2008 campaign, and the president mentioned his potential rivals - though not by name - more than once. He referred to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by noting the similarities between their two health care reform plans.
The president also made several made-for-television stops as his bus traveled from the first event, in Cannon Falls, Minn., into Decorah.
At the Coffee Mill restaurant, in Zumbrota, Minn., the president shook some hands, then came out of the eatery with a coconut cream pie.
In Chatfield, the president stopped at a school, shaking hands with the kids and getting a rousing "yeah!" when he asked if they'd like to get a picture with him.
After today's economic forum in Peosta, the president will stay overnight in Davenport, according to the White House, and conclude his bus tour with town hall meetings in the Illinois Quad-City region communities of Alpha and Atkinson.
(This story includes reports from pool reporters traveling with the president.)