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Obama big visit in small Illinois towns: Atkinson, Alpha town halls

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atkinson.jpegAtkinson, Ill. decked out for a presidential visit.(photo by Lynn Sweet)

atkinson obama.jpegSarah Adam, Linda Combs, Darla Matlick in Atkinson, Ill. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

ATKINSON, Ill. -- A trail of U.S. flags, newly planted in the ground, runs from I-80 to the buildings housing a seed company's production facility, where President Barack Obama will hold a town meeting on Wednesday, rolling into this small town in his new $1.1 million big, black bus.

Nothing this big has happened here before, said Sara Adam, 22, an Army spouse. Her son, Brayden, 5, was playing on the lawn nearby -- on the street where Obama's motorcade will pass en route to Wyffels Hybrids -- and I asked her what her son thought of the president's visit.

"In our house, Obama is Dad's boss. He had a lot of questions," said Adam. Her mother, Linda Combs, 58, a title clerk at Shabbona Creek RV -- her sons are Marines -- was tying a fresh gold ribbon to the maple tree on her front lawn on the occasion of a presidential stop.

A neighbor, Darla Matlick, 40, a registered nurse, said whether a "Democrat or Republican, it doesn't matter. The man who is running your country is coming to your town."

After a series of stops in Minnesota and Iowa, Obama wraps up a three-day bus trip with a pair of town hall meetings in two small Henry County towns in western Illinois: Atkinson, population 1,100 (143 miles west of Chicago) and Alpha, population 671. At Alpha, Obama will appear at Country Corner Farm, an "agri-tourism" business.

While Obama needs to work to keep Minnesota and Iowa in his 2012 win column, the former Illinois senator is not seen as having any re-election problem in his adopted homestate.

I asked Obama strategist David Axelrod why Obama was swinging through Illinois and it was not, he told me, a matter of looking at electoral maps or polling. "Illinois is very much in the heartland and these small towns he is going to are very representative of communities all over the country," Axelrod said.

The bus trip is official government business -- White House advance staffers were at Wyffels on Monday. But the Republican National Committee has been sniping that it is a thinly disguised campaign run.

Obama's real problem remains job creation.

In Iowa, he promised to unveil a new jobs package in September, without offering specifics, giving Republicans an opening to jump all over him. At the same time, Obama is stepping up pressure on Congress to get something done when they return after the summer break.

Not to be lost, however, are moves Obama is taking that do not require congressional approval, on this trip tailored to rural America: more biofuel funding and having the Small Business Administration making more rural loans.

"The country wants a spirit of cooperation, of trying to solve problems," Axelrod said. "Not heightened partisanship, not heightened ideology, not my way or the highway."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on August 17, 2011 12:33 AM.

President Obama official schedule and guidance, Aug. 17, 2011. Atkinson, Alpha and Peoria, Ill. was the previous entry in this blog.

Obama to unveil "new ideas" for jobs in September speech: AP reporting is the next entry in this blog.

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