It's a partisan battle for the public's hearts and minds as President Obama takes a road trip to sell an economic stimulus plan, while Republicans rail against it as another Democratic spending spree.
Today, Obama heads to Elkhart, Ind., where the unemployment rate hit 15.3 percent in December, more than twice the national average and up nearly 11 percentage points in just a year.
Tonight at 8, the new president holds his first primetime news conference, from the East Room of the White House.
Tuesday, Obama goes to Fort Myers, Fla., among the fast-growing Sunbelt cities slammed by the foreclosure crisis. Wednesday, he heads for northern Virginia.
Obama has added another stop on his tour -- the proverbial Peoria, Ill., on Thursday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One, according to the press pool report.
In his weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday, Obama made his case gain: "Legislation of such magnitude deserves the scrutiny that it's received over the last month, and it will receive more in the days to come. But we can't afford to make perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary. The scale and scope of this plan is right. And the time for action is now.
"Because if we don't move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe," he added.
But Michael Steele, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, responded with a message of his own to give the party line.
"Democrats have controlled both branches of government for less than a month. And you have to wonder if all that power has gone to their heads," Steele said. "For the last two weeks, they've been trying to force a massive spending bill through Congress under the guise of economic relief."
Obama heads into the week with an advantage, according to a new Gallup poll.
According to the survey conducted Friday and Saturday, 67 percent of Americans approve Obama's handling of the stimulus bill, while only 48 percent approve how Democrats in Congress have conducted themselves, and only 38 percent approve of what congressional Republicans have done.
Obama has had far higher job approval ratings in general than Congress.
Another poll released today, however, showed far less support for the stimulus bill than for Obama, himself.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found that 54 percent support the package, but that 55 percent believe it would spend too much money; 64 percent say it would help a lot or help the economy some.
The poll also found that while 74 percent believe that Obama is doing enough to cooperate with Republicans in Congress, but only 39 percent believe that Republicans are reciprocating adequately. Obama's overall job approval rating is 76 percent.
The survey, conducted Saturday and Sunday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Another survey released today also found dwindling support for the stimulus plan, largely because it has become a more partisan issue.
While 51 percent of Americans still say the package is a good idea, that's down from 57 percent last month, and unfavorable views have risen to 34 percent from 22 percent, according to the survey conducted Wednesday through Sunday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Among Republicans, 63 percent now say the bill is a bad idea – up 20 percentage points since last month. While Democrats are also more skeptical, 70 percent still view the plan positively, according to the poll.
According to the press pool report, senior strategist David Axelrod pushed back at the idea that public support is slipping for the stimulus plan.
“There is strong support for this,” he said. “I think the Gallup poll this morning reflects everything I’ve seen for the last couple of weeks.”
“One thing that we learned over two years is that there’s a whole different conversation in Washington than there is out here. If I had listened to the conversation in Washington during the campaign for president, I would have jumped off a building about a year and a half ago.”
Not a single Republican supported the $820 billion version passed by the House on Jan. 28. Only three Republicans appear lined up to back the $827 billion version the Senate is expected to approve on Tuesday.
Two of them are Maine's senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Americans United for Change, a progressive and labor advocacy group, is running a radio ad praising them.
"The clock's ticking - and our economy continues to get worse and worse," the spot says. "That's why it's critical that the Senate pass President Obama's jobs and economic recovery bill right away. Fortunately, Maine's two Senators -- Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are providing the leadership we need to get the job done. Senators Snowe and Collins have worked with President Obama and other Senators to reach agreement on a plan that has support from a broad range of groups - including the US Chamber of Commerce and organized labor."
Even with Senate approval, the deal could fall apart when a House-Senate conference committee tries to reach a compromise that both chambers would have to pass again before the package reaches Obama's desk. It will take the legislative equivalent of a sprint to give final approval before Congress is supposed to leave for its President's Day recess on Saturday, Obama's deadline.
"This bill is not perfect," Collins said this morning on NBC's "Today" show. "We're not claiming that. But in fact I think this bill will help to create 3.5 million jobs. ... We're facing a crisis and it makes no sense to have a partisan divide."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.