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Meet Elkhart, Ind.

President Obama heads into the belly of the beast today, leaving Washington for a depressed city in Northern Indiana with the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Obama's first press conference as president is tonight at 8 p.m. ET, but the town-hall meeting in an Elkhart high school gymnasium at noon may be an even better gauge of how his stimulus package is playing with ordinary Americans. He'll take questions from local residents who lined up for hours Saturday morning to get tickets.

Mimi Hall writes for USA Today: "Layoffs are happening across the USA — but nowhere as fast as in this once-thriving area that used to be known as the 'RV Capital of the World.' One year ago, unemployment in Elkhart County was at 4.7%. Today, it's the highest in the nation at 15.3%, fueled largely by the rapid decline in the recreational vehicle business...

"This area did not vote for Obama in November, but The Elkhart Truth newspaper is on board with that message now. 'President Obama needs to help Congress understand that the stimulus package isn't about politics. It's about survival,' the newspaper said in a Sunday editorial....

"Obama's likely to get an earful from frightened residents who have seen property values plummet and foreclosure rates rise. Area church congregations are taking up donations for unemployed parishioners, and local TV stations are running ads telling people how to get to food banks."

Hall writes that Obama is being introduced by "Ed Neufeldt, a father of seven who lost his $20-an-hour job in September. He had been building RVs at Monaco Coach for 32 years when his boss came out of a meeting in tears and announced that the company was closing its plant, putting 1,400 out of work.

"Neufeldt, 62, has two children living at home, and two of his grown daughters and their husbands — all four also RV industry workers — are out of work as well....

"He didn't vote for Obama, but he's backing him now. In fact, Neufeldt will introduce the president at Monday's town-hall-style meeting. 'Sometimes you don't care too much for the coach,' he says, 'but you're praying for him to win.'"

In a dramatic contrast to former President Bush's town-hall meetings -- which were held almost exclusively in party strongholds, with tickets distributed primarily to supporters -- it was first-come, first-served in Elkhart on Saturday. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained on Friday: "I've watched the President do town halls from 2004 through 2008, and the audience has never been hand-picked, and neither have the questions. And we're not going to start any of that on Monday."

Jodi Magallanes writes for the Elkhart Truth that "thousands of area residents... lined up outside McCuen Gym at Concord High School beginning late Friday to get tickets... Many wanted to know what the president was going to do to bring back jobs and spark a correction in the financial sector of the economy....

"Julie Moore of Goshen arrived at 7 a.m. and wound up close to the front of the line. She wanted the opportunity to hear from the president that he'd be able to save the jobs that still exist in the county that's experienced the largest jump in the local unemployment rate during the last year.

"'We feel more affected by this now than when he was here the last time,' Moore said.

"Since Obama's previous visit to Concord in August, her husband has lost his job."

Jake Tapper writes for ABC News that Elkhart County is "a Republican bastion that Obama lost 44 percent to 56 percent last November, despite his impressive feat of winning the Hoosier State."

Obama is even inviting critics onto Air Force One, Tapper writes: "Two opponents of the bill will also be on board: Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., one of just 11 House Democrats to oppose it; and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., a close friend of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who voted against the bill but has been working with the White House on adding a business tax cut provision."

Expect more of the same tomorrow, when Obama continues his road show with a trip to Fort Myers, Fla. Beth Reinhard writes in the Miami Herald: "Obama chose a part of Florida that could be a tough sell. Republican John McCain won Lee County by an 11-point margin.

"The local congressman, Republican Connie Mack, voted against the economic recovery plan."

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 9, 2009; 9:48 AM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
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Comments

"The local congressman, Republican Connie Mack, voted against the economic recovery plan."

Of course he did. How is this monstrosity of pork and special interest bill supposed to stimulate people into buying more RV's? And I wonder what the good people of Elkhart are going to do for work after the Boy King Obama grants amnesty to the 30 million illegals?

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | February 9, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

We're living turbulent times and I'm sure President Obama will be asked some very tough questions by the good people in Elkhart. But how refreshing it is to have President who's willing to have a frank and open discussion about the tough topics of our times and strong enough to take these things head on.

Posted by: gmckinney | February 9, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

The belly of the beast indeed. These are the same deep thinkers who supported Bush even as he destroyed the economy. Now they want the Democrats to bail them out. Obama ought to bring the entire Indiana congressional delegation with him and let each rep and senator explain his vote on the stimulus package.

Posted by: fatman985 | February 9, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Of course, by definition, an employment/stimulus bill is full of local pork projects: those are the things on which people are employed, like repairing roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. If you complain about that, you're funamentally failing to comprehend what the bill is supposed to do.

All the ludicrous tax-cut giveaways that the Republicans insist on, however, are beyond stupid. They're not really even loyal opposition. They're playing more like Rush, and they'd rather see the country enter disaster than cooperate with the man who helped engineer their defeat (aside from the recently-departed, worst president in history).

Deficit spending is a common governmental role during recession (and depression). When times are good, like we were told they were for the last eight years by the pharaonic party in power at the time, the government should be breaking even or running a surplus. Too bad they had it backwards. Now that Obama's got it forwards again they still don't see what's going on.

Posted by: whizbang9a | February 9, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, from what the Republican's say (and who cannot can believe them?), it's been three weeks now and Obama still hasn't solved this economic thing. What's wrong with him? Oh, he's a democrat president. Of course.

Posted by: Patriot3 | February 9, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I would think that commenter Sharpshooting Pugilist still has money in his pocket. I wonder how his commentary would change if he were unemployed and hungry. I agree that the entire Indiana delegation should help the Prez answer the people's questions. Just let the Republidiots explain how corporate tax breaks are going to put food on their tables, or a job of any kind to be had. Republidiots are "fiddling while the economy burns," and are yet to understand the mood of most of the people who pay their salary. Two losing elections, though, haven't made much of a dent yet. Maybe the fine folks of Elkhart will give them a lesson in what ordinary folks want from their leadership.

Posted by: jmccray1 | February 9, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I can truly understand why many republicans are constantly negative on Obama and every idea the Democrats come up with. I mean, afterall, they have those wizards of policy creation, Rush the traitorous windbag and Joe the bumbling non-plumber, leading them out of the wilderness any day now. And I am sure, as they must be counting on, none of us will remember how they did their utmost to sabotage OUR government and OUR economy to prove to us what losers the Democrats really are. Well done!

Posted by: kgeakin | February 9, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I happen to see the even in Ekhart live, and I must say that the POTUS did extremely well. While I will acknowledge that the wasn't challenged significantly, if others will concede that %15 unemployment does a lot to bring people to the table. As was stated in the US Today, their entire community has become focused on trying to save their friends and neighbors. Television stations spend time directing people on where the local food banks are, and congregations are pulling together money to help as many as they can. In light of all this, we still have people insist that we do nothing, or better yet, still insist that the "trickle down theory" practices will work (this time).
Small business owners need customers not tax breaks you ruddy morons, and people need jobs so they can feed their families, not obstructionist government. So how about you people bench your obnoxiously stupid and arrogant banter and let's get thing rolling for this President and our suffering neighbors.
I don't give a dang about bipartisanship, but is it too much to want to see some humanity?

Peace.
Rick Beagle

Posted by: RickBeagle | February 9, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

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