DECORAH, Iowa – U.S. President Barack Obama is using the fertile farms and lush countryside of the Midwest as a backdrop to sharpen his governing strategy and test his message for the coming re-election campaign.

As the president embarks on the second day of a three-day bus tour Tuesday, he is trying to rekindle Democrats’ enthusiasm and entice the backing of all-important independent voters, after spending much of the summer fighting with Republicans over a plan to tackle the U.S. debt.

Though classified by the White House as an official presidential trip, the tour’s first day had the distinct feel of a campaign excursion. Obama’s rhetoric had a campaign pulse as well.

With echoes of Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, Obama encouraged audiences at town hall meetings Monday in Minnesota and Iowa to rise up against congressional inaction.

“If your voices are heard, then sooner or later these guys have to start paying attention,” he said. “And if they don’t start paying attention then they’re not going to be in office and we will have a new Congress in there that will start paying attention to what is going on all across America.”

Obama has been under heavy attack from the field of Republican presidential hopefuls who insist the only way out of the current economic doldrums is to shrink the size of government by choking off federal spending while refusing to increase taxes as a means of lowering U.S. deficit spending.

Obama has insisted on what he calls a balanced approach that reduces spending but sustains important social programs through tax increases, primarily on the wealthiest Americans and big business.

On Tuesday, Obama was to preside over a White House Rural Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta. There the president was expected to discuss new initiatives and proposals to help farm regions, some of which are already under way and do not require additional government spending.

The new measures are targeted, such as making it easier for rural businesses to get access to capital, and far more modest than the ambitious 2009 stimulus package he pushed through Congress when unemployment was rising but still below the current 9.1 per cent level.

The economic message illustrates Obama’s current dilemma. Republicans control the House of Representatives and believe that addressing the nation’s long-term debt will have a positive effect on the economy; they are intent on blocking major spending initiatives aimed at spurring a recovery.

On Monday, Obama attacked the Republican presidential field, recalling a moment in last week’s Republican presidential debate when all eight of the candidates said they would refuse to support a budget deal with tax increases, even if tax revenues were outweighed 10-to-1 by spending cuts.

“That’s just not common sense,” Obama told the crowd at a town hall-style meeting in Cannon Falls, Minn.

In both town halls, Obama cast himself as a compromiser, a trait White House aides say resonates with independent voters and lives up to his 2008 pledge to change the ways of Washington.

“I make no apologies for being reasonable,” Obama declared.