CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — 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 more than they are Obama.

As he hits the road for three days of travel to important political states, Obama is on a roll.

It could be a fleeting moment, however. 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.

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 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."

He added: "Well, I am here to say they are wrong."

Polls show slight improvement in his job approval ratings. A Washington Post/ABC poll last week showed a 48-48 on that question. A Gallup tracking poll has him even in recent surveys; a few months ago, more disapproved than approved.

Obama will be on the road through Friday following his prime-time address and use the power of the presidency to compete for headlines with leading Republican 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.