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Obama Hops A Bus For Friendly Red States


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. President Barack Obama is hitting the road again to promote his jobs plan in one of his favorite states. And if you're guessing Hawaii or Illinois, you would be wrong.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: First of all, I just love North Carolina. I love the people of North Carolina. I love, you know, traveling through North Carolina.

CORNISH: That's the president speaking last month with a local television reporter from North Carolina.

OBAMA: It was very important to me in 2008. It's going to be important in 2012. We're going to campaign actively in North Carolina. But most importantly, I think North Carolina represents what the country's going through.

CORNISH: Tomorrow, the president heads to the Tar Heel State and later Virginia on a three-day bus tour through two of the most important states in next year's presidential race. Mr. Obama turned the two traditionally Republican states blue in 2008. Reclaiming them figures into his 2012 reelection strategy, and it won't be easy. In 2008, Mr. Obama won North Carolina by less than 1 percentage point. And, like Virginia, it saw a strong Republican tide in the 2010 vote, fueled in part by the stalled economy. We're going to take a look at the changing political climate with two Democrats from the battleground states of Virginia and North Carolina. Congressman David Price currently represents North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, commonly known as the Research Triangle, and he's here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Congressman Price, welcome to the program.


CORNISH: And Tom Perriello. He's the former congressman from Virginia's 5th District. Perriello is also a Democrat, one of many who lost a seat to Republicans in last year's midterm elections. He joins us from member station WEAA in Baltimore. Mr. Perriello, thank you for being with us.


CORNISH: So, gentlemen, first, give me a sense of where things stand in your state. What kind of political climate is President Obama driving to do on his tour this week? Congressman Price?

PRICE: The climate in North Carolina, I think, is uncertain. People are concerned about jobs and about the economy and about an unemployment rate that statewide is 10-and-a-half percent, unacceptably high. And in my part of the state, the Triangle area, it's two points better. And I think the lesson to be drawn from that is not that we're immune - we're not - but that the investments that have been made in infrastructure and education and research do make a difference in terms of diversifying the economy and giving it some resilience. And, of course, that's exactly what President Obama is saying with his jobs plan.

CORNISH: And Congressman Perriello of Virginia, I mean, this was a big coup for President Obama. But what's the atmosphere now?

PERRIELLO: Well, I think the first thing to keep in mind is the economic climate is more important than the political climate. And I think when the president is out there talking about jobs, talking about how we can out-compete China and other countries, that's when his numbers go up.

CORNISH: Is the fact that the president, out of all the states to go visit, and out of all the swing states to go visit, the fact that he's hitting the bus to your two states specifically, speak to the uphill battle he has in these two places?

PRICE: I actually think it's a sign that these are states within reach. And that amongst the...

CORNISH: So, you're still hopeful. You're a true Democrat.

PRICE: No, I'm not deluded, I don't think. I mean, I've seen the figures. Here's a map that shows you the swing states that more and less hopeful and we're right on the cusp.

PERRIELLO: I think Congressman Price is right. If he didn't have a fighting chance, they wouldn't be wasting time and money there.

CORNISH: Well, they might. They have a 50-state strategy.



PRICE: We think 50-state strategies are poor.

PERRIELLO: Yeah, no. I think this is going to be a targeted thing and I also think you have to remember the fact that, you know, a couple of election cycles ago the idea that these states might be in play was relatively crazy notions. And the fact that not only did he win them but he still has a fighting chance, I think, speaks a lot to the changing political dynamics in the two states.

CORNISH: I'm speaking with Democratic Congressman David Price, who represents North Carolina's 4th congressional district, and Tom Perriello, the former Democratic representative of Virginia's 5th district. Gentlemen, one thing is both of your states have some demographics in common in terms of having some deep rural areas that are strongly conservative and having big migration patterns that have made it more palatable for Democrats. But realistically, it seems like those red areas are getting redder and more conservative. And so realistically, what can the president do to reach out to those voters again?

PRICE: Well, the president carried North Carolina after all. He carried it narrowly.

CORNISH: Just barely.

PRICE: But he did carry it for the first time since Jimmy Carter. North Carolina was a blue state. And he campaigned hard. His supporters campaigned hard. And there was a hopeful message there that the people of our state responded to.

CORNISH: If North Carolina goes, it would be one of the first to go, right, in terms of those swing states that Obama is vulnerable in.

PRICE: Well, it's a swing state. Let's just stipulate that.


CORNISH: A newly swinging state. Let's just say, OK.

PRICE: But the situation in Virginia and Colorado and partly in Ohio, there are similar situations in the country. But North Carolina is a state that really, really went all out for Obama in the last election, and we're having the convention there. There's a reason for that. And there's a reason for this tour that the president's embarking on.

CORNISH: In both of your states, there are essentially a white, independent voting block that is moving away from Barack Obama. And based on what you know in your states, how does he make a difference to them today?

PRICE: I think the come on very strong and single-minded about jobs and about the economy and about the common sense nature of this plan that he's put forward.

CORNISH: I mean, Tom Perriello, quick question to you as well. I mean, you're an example of a Democrat who went to the mat for President Obama's ideas and you stood by some really tough votes that you made, and that didn't seem to help.

PERRIELLO: I went to the mat for the people of my district. I went to the mat for the kind of jobs that you can support a family with. But, again, people are beyond Ds and Rs right now. You see with Occupy Wall Street and other things, what I think happens when the conversation moves outside of Washington is that we realize how angry people are and how much economic insecurity there is. And I think it's a time for leadership in Washington to address that, whether it comes from the right or the left.

CORNISH: Tom Perriello is a former Democratic congressman from Virginia. He joins us from member station WEAA in Baltimore. And Democratic congressman David Price of North Carolina. He joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you both for speaking with us.

PERRIELLO: Thank you.

PRICE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.