Haraz Ghanbari, Associated Press
CHANDLER, Ariz. — If President Barack Obama is showing some swagger, it shouldn't be a surprise.
His job approval ratings point to an uptick. The Navy SEAL unit that killed Osama bin Laden just pulled off a daring rescue that Obama authorized in Somalia. He's fresh off a big speech before Congress, and the Republicans who want his job are criticizing each other probably more than they are Obama.
As he hits the road for three days of travel to important political states, Obama is on a roll.
Feeling good, he even tried his hand at a bit of public crooning a few days ago, channeling the Rev. Al Green to a fundraising crowd at the Apollo Theater in New York and securing the highest of pop culture distinction: a ring tone.
It could be a fleeting moment for Obama. While the economy is improving with indicators trending positively, unemployment remains high at 8.5 percent and international debt crises and tensions could unravel the gains. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows signs of increasing optimism that the economy will improve with 37 percent saying it will get better in the next year, the highest level in that poll in more than a year.
For now, Obama is not hiding his upbeat demeanor.
Arriving in Iowa on Wednesday, he jogged, grinning, to a rope line of a couple of dozen supporters. He later expressed nostalgia for the days in 2007 when he was campaigning in Iowa, and he struck a defiant tone against congressional Republicans that was even sharper than the repudiation he offered Tuesday night in his State of the Union address.
"Our economy is getting stronger, and we've come too far to turn back now," he told workers and guests at a conveyor manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids. Speaking of Republicans, he said, "Their philosophy is simple: We're better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules."
"Well, I am here to say they are wrong," he said.
In a stop later in the day in Arizona, Obama stripped off his jacket and joked about the warm weather to a crowd at an Intel chip plant, seeming to revel in being out on the stump.
He even mixed it up with the state's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, confronting her over how she depicted him in her book. Reporters witnessed the two in intense conversation after Brewer greeted Obama on the tarmac at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, and Brewer later said it was over a passage in her book in which she describes Obama as lecturing her over immigration.
A White House official said Obama, who opposes Arizona's controversial immigration law, responded to an invitation from Brewer to meet with her by telling the governor he'd be glad to, but adding that Brewer had inaccurately described their last meeting in her book.
The spring in his step comes as polls show slight improvement in his job approval ratings. A Washington Post/ABC poll last week had him evenly split 48-48 on that question. A Gallup tracking poll has him even in recent surveys, compared with a few months ago when more disapproved than approved.
On the road through Friday, Obama will bask in the afterglow of his prime-time address and use the power of the presidency to compete for headlines with leading GOP White House hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich as they knock heads ahead of the Jan. 31 Florida primary. He will try to promote a populist message of income equality that Obama's team believes can resonate with voters.
Underscoring the political subtext, four of the five states he will visit will hold Republican presidential caucuses or primaries within the next month. The two caucuses — in Nevada and Colorado — come within two weeks of his visit.
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