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Obama will promote rural initiatives during Midwest swing

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news Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

ST. PAUL -- President Barack Obama has new ammunition to tell Midwesterners that he is working for rural America when he visits Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois in the next few days.

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His administration today released a report claiming it has "made significant investments" in programs ranging from jobs to health care. That is part of what he will discuss in a rare rural-oriented visit to Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

"It is important for the president to be in a place to underscore the importance agriculture is making to the country," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, told reporters today.

Vilsack and Obama Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said Midwesterners should expect significant announcements related to rural issues during the trip.

Obama starts a three-day bus tour in Cannon Falls, Minn., at mid-day Monday, the only Minnesota stop announced by the White House.

Vilsack said the Obama trip meshes with Obama's instructions to Cabinet secretaries to travel rural America to "to listen and to learn."

During the bus trip, Obama "wants to engage in a conversation with the American people ... to talk about how the economy is affecting them," Pfeiffer said.

The White House had not released details about how that conversation will occur at Cannon Falls and four other town hall meetings he plans on his trip.

Obama Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Midwesterners should be happy to see the president.

"I do think that Democrats, independents and Republicans expect to see their president of the United States outside of Washington, D.C., out from behind the podium, spending time talking to the American people in their communities about the economy and the range of other issues that are being discussed here at the White House and how they're influenced by those policy debates," Earnest said.

On his trip, Earnest added, Obama expects to hear about frustration with the "dysfunction in Congress" as well as some supporters who question his compromise with congressional Republicans over a debt-reduction deal.

Obama will be in Cannon Falls' Lower Hanna's Bend Park for an 11:45 a.m. Monday outdoors "town hall" meeting. A limited number of tickets are available beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday at Cannon Falls City Hall, 918 River Road.

The president then attends a Decorah, Iowa, town hall meeting and on Tuesday hosts a rural economic forum in northeastern Iowa before making Wednesday stops in western Illinois.

The White House says the visit is official, although some Republicans say it appears to be a campaign swing.

Obama's 2008 presidential campaign featured little discussion about rural issues. A stop Obama made in Eau Claire, Wis., just before the Democratic National Convention was one of his few rural-oriented appearances.

In Iowa this year, rural issues have been surprisingly absent from most discussion as Republican presidential candidates campaign in anticipation of the key caucuses next winter. Candidates barely have been seen on farms, which traditionally have served as backdrops to Iowa campaign stops.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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