In a high-octane performance that came with all of the bells and whistles of a campaign event — right down to U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” blaring across the field — Mr. Obama said the $25 billion for education construction and improvements in the plan would achieve two goals at once: modernizing American schools and putting construction workers back on the job.
But even as Mr. Obama was cranking up his call to action ( “Pass this bill” has turned into an audience chant à la “Yes we can”), he was also indicating that he is willing to take piecemeal passage of the bill after Republicans and some Democrats suggested that Congress would not adopt the proposal intact. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters aboard Air Force One that if Congress broke off elements of the bill to pass, Mr. Obama would sign those portions into law, and then go back to pushing for the rest.
But, Mr. Carney added, “Congress will have a lot of explaining to do” if by the end of the year lawmakers have not moved to aggressively boost job growth.
Democratic advisers to Mr. Obama say that they plan to compete ferociously for the electoral votes of Ohio, which the president won in 2008. Republicans are already complaining that Mr. Obama’s jobs tour is more about the election than about jobs.
“After calling a joint session of Congress to propose yet a second stimulus of failed policies, the president is hitting the road this week in a political attempt to sell his package of old ideas,” The Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, said in a statement. “But unsurprisingly, he’s only stopping in major 2012 battleground states.”
Mr. Obama will be traveling to North Carolina State University in Raleigh on Wednesday, visiting a state he somewhat improbably won in 2008 and which his political advisers hope he can keep next year.
In Columbus, Mr. Obama told the friendly crowd of students and political supporters to “call and e-mail and tweet and fax and visit and tell your congresspersons that the time for gridlock and games is over and the time for action is now.”
He made his remarks at the Fort Hayes Art and Academic High School, which has recently benefited from federal funding to renovate.
“There are construction projects like this all over the country just waiting to get started,” Mr. Obama said. “So my question to Congress is, ‘What on earth are you waiting for?’ ”
He stood near a giant banner that looked like one of the “change” campaign banners from 2008, except that this one said “American Jobs Act.” The crowd of more than 3,000 people at the school acted like they were at a campaign event, too. They chanted: “Pass this bill! Pass this bill! Pass this bill!”
White House officials said the $25 billion, if approved by lawmakers, would help at least 35,000 public schools. The investment would make rural schools a priority, as well as schools financed through the Bureau of Indian Education. The money, White House officials said, could be used for a tasks such as repairs or technology upgrades.
But Republicans continued to dump cold water on the proposal.
“It’s great to talk about schools,” said Kevin DeWine, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday morning. But, he added, “I’m not willing to say that just because the president pulls $25 billion dollars out of thin air, that’s something that members of Congress should blindly support.”
Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said he did not “know exactly what I’m going to do yet with the president’s jobs bill, but we’re going to have a full caucus meeting on it on Thursday.”
For Mr. Obama, the trip to Ohio was an incursion into the home state of the man he will be fencing with, House Speaker John A. Boehner, as he tries to push his jobs plan. But it was also more than that; Tuesday’s trip represented one of what promises to be many visits to swing states as the White House tries to sell Mr. Obama’s proposals to the American people while at the same time protecting Mr. Obama from a backlash from voters if the plan fails in Congress. By pushing so hard, Mr. Obama will be able to point to his own efforts, while seeking to tag the Republicans with a ‘do-nothing’ label, an administration official said.
Whether this plan will work remains in doubt, but some Republicans — even while pledging to oppose the bill, have at least adopted a more moderate tone. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, was not in town for Mr. Obama’s visit, but he has notably declined to pour criticism on the plan.