President Obama will get to see how his stimulus plan plays in Peoria on Thursday.
Obama has been traveling around the country to promote the plan — which congressional Democrats and a few key Republicans struck a deal on Wednesday. Their compromise will be put to a vote as early as Thursday.
The White House used all the tools in its kit to change the dynamic of the stimulus debate this week. After watching Republicans define the stimulus as wasteful spending and pork, the president decided to give a prime-time press conference and make a series of campaign-style stops.
On Monday, he went to Elkhart, Ind., which has one of the highest unemployment rates. On Tuesday, it was Fort Myers, Fla., which has the highest home foreclosure rate. And on Thursday, it's East Peoria, Ill., where Obama will make a pitch to workers at a Caterpillar manufacturing plant.
Caterpillar was seen as a model American manufacturer, with sales booming. But it recently announced big layoffs — more than 20,000 jobs.
Obama said he's going to speak with workers at the Caterpillar plant "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."
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.
"I have an urgent need: unemployment and homelessness — a very small vehicle for my family and I to live in," she said. "The housing authority has two years' waiting lists. And we need something more than the vehicle and the parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help."
Obama waded into the crowd and gave Hughes a kiss. "We're going to do everything we can to help you," he said.
Hughes got some help — and that display of concern may have helped 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.
"We are, as an organization, going to continue the tactics that proved successful in the primary and in the general election — which is having friends talk to friends, and neighbors talk to neighbors about issues they care about," said Mitch Stewart, the new director of Organizing for America — formerly the Obama campaign — in a video e-mailed to the 13 million people who signed up on mybarackobama.com.
Stewart asked Obama supporters to host economic recovery house meetings to talk about the stimulus bill. And, according to Stewart, more than 3,500 meetings were held 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.
"Fortunately, Maine's two senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are providing the leadership we need to get the job done," the ads said.
On the road this week, Obama tried to recapture a populist message — a message that had been undermined by the tax troubles of several of his Cabinet nominees.
"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," he said.
Cleaning up the bank mess turned out to be the big misfire for the White House this week. At his press conference on Monday, Obama raised expectations for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's rollout of the bank bailout plan.
"I want all of you to show up at his press conference as well," Obama said. "He's going to be terrific."
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 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.
Still, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday's big sell-off would be the wrong way to measure the bank bailout plan.
"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," he said.
Although the administration still has a lot of work to do on the financial bailout, Obama soon could be savoring his first big legislative victory: The stimulus bill is expected to reach his desk as early as Friday.