Barack Obama launches campaign-style Midwest tour
US President Barack Obama has begun a campaign-style speaking tour to make a case to voters for action to boost the US economy and create jobs.
Mr Obama's three-day Midwest trip comes amid poor economic news and low approval ratings for the president.
Meanwhile, the Republican 2012 election field is beginning to take shape.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty pulled out after rival Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll, while Texas Governor Rick Perry joined the race.
They are vying to become the chief rival to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican nomination for 2012's US presidential elections.
Mr Romney leads in polling and in fundraising, but is seen as vulnerable to a challenge.
'Partisanship and gridlock'
Mr Obama left for Minnesota on Monday morning for a three-day trip to include stops in Iowa and Illinois.
He will make the case to voters that his administration has stabilised the economy and laid the foundation for job growth.
At a meeting with voters in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, Mr Obama told voters: "You've got to send a message to Washington that it's time for the games to stop, it's time to put country first.
"If you can do the right thing, then folks in Washington have to do the right thing. And if we do that, there is not a problem that we face that we cannot solve."
In laying out what may be the themes of his forthcoming campaign, Mr Obama said the US economy had faced challenges out of its control - the Japanese tsunami, the European debt crisis, and gas prices driven up by the Arab Spring revolutions.
Political bickering in Washington had prevented an effective US response, he added.
"Some in Congress would rather see their opponents lose than America win, [so] we ended up creating more uncertainty and more damage to an economy that was already weak," he said.
He laid the blame firmly with the opposition Republican party, saying that House Speaker John Boehner had resisted a generous compromise deficit reduction and debt package in order to protect low tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.
"He walked away because his belief was we can't ask anything of millionaires and billionaires and big corporations in order to close our deficit," Mr Obama said.
'Magical Misery bus tour'
Some analysts are marking Mr Obama's tour as a new phase in his re-election effort, noting it is imperative that he begin now to regain control of the political message from the Republican party.
They say he must convince voters that his policies - including a $787bn (£482bn) economic stimulus package and a broad healthcare reform - have helped the economy, not hindered it.
The president's Republican opponents have taken every opportunity to blame him for the lagging economic recovery.
Labelling Mr Obama's trip the "Magical Misery bus tour", Mr Romney said in a statement that the president was "more interested in campaigning in swing states than working to solve the economic crisis that is crushing the middle class".
The Republican field began to take shape over the weekend as a three-way race between Mr Romney, Mr Perry and Ms Bachmann, analysts say.
Ms Bachmann's victory on Saturday in a non-binding "straw poll" in Iowa boosted her profile.
Mr Pawlenty dropped out of the race after finishing a distant third. Mr Romney did not compete.
Mr Perry also entered the White House race on Saturday, jumping to second place in polls of Republican voters, behind Mr Romney.
Mr Perry and Ms Bachmann are vying for the same segments of aggressive anti-tax Tea Party Republicans and social conservative voters.
Mr Romney is presenting himself as an accomplished businessman who can fix the economy and appeal to the independent voters needed to defeat Mr Obama.
With the first real voting not scheduled to take place until February, analysts say plenty of time remains for more upheaval in the Republican race.
This could include a late entrance from Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, 2008 vice-presidential nominee and conservative Tea Party hero.