Obama No Longer A Candidate, But Still Campaigning

(AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
After only a few weeks in office, President Obama hit the campaign trail again, this time to pitch his stimulus package.

For his first event speaking to voters outside of Washington, he came to Elkhart, Indiana and spoke in the same high school gym where Candidate Obama spoke in August.

Since that visit the unemployment rate in this small town near South Bend, has nearly doubled, from just over 8% to 15% today, most of it on the heels of slowed down RV manufacturing, the latest statistic in a growing economic meltdown.

President Obama emerged from the cocoon of the both the White House and the 77-day transition before that, looking and acting like the powerful orator he was on the campaign. To a passionate crowd of 1,700 locals, the President emerged to shrieks, screams and chants of "Obama, Obama, Obama."

After a series of thank yous from the new President, the crowd settled in to hear how their town has quickly become the first stop on the Obama economic stimulus sales wagon.

"I promised you back then that if elected President, I would do everything I could to help this community recover. And that's why I've come back today – to tell you how I intend to keep that promise," he said before joining parts of his now familiar speech about the need to act quickly to how the failure of Congress to act on his stimulus could lead to "catastrophe."

The crowd was receptive and captivated and applauded each line of promises in the economic recovery plan, including increased unemployment insurance and help paying medical benefits for the unemployed, known as COBRA.

After the speech, which had the feel of a late in the campaign rally, President Obama did something for the first time since he moved into "the people's house" as he called it, he took questions from the audience.

Some of the questions were focused on economic policy, while others praised him for pushing a green energy plan. Most of the questioners, who were called on at random by the man himself, praised the new president. Except for one.

In the third question, a woman asked Mr. Obama about the failure of some of cabinet nominees to pay their taxes. She asked how he could come to Indiana and ask the voters to trust him, when he appointed people who were, in her words, "untrustworthy."

The most visceral response to the question came not from the President, but from the audience, who booed the woman, especially when she mentioned conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity.

The president came to her defense.

"It's a legitimate question," he said, before answering it as he did last week in Washington: calling them honest mistakes and taking responsibility for what happened.

The audience questions may have been a precursor to tonight's main event, which is Mr. Obama's first prime-time news conference. He flew back to Washington soon after the event ended to prepare.

While his first event could have been more regal, this one was somber and with purpose. The President is traveling outside of Washington earlier than had been expected, with additional trips to Florida and Illinois this week, and many observers say it's out of necessity.

After calling for a bipartisan answer to the economic crisis, his stimulus plan received no Republican votes in the House, was blasted by many Senate Republicans and is only surviving there by a compromised made by a few moderate Republican senators. The tough work lies ahead as the two houses put their different versions of the plan together.

The road is not easy, and the President today for the first time, and not the last, hit the trail to sell his bill of goods, much as he did last fall - selling himself. Now, he's got the job and has to rally the same support that got him into the White House to get him success there.

Robert Hendin is a CBS News producer.

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    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.