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Obama Hits the Road to Sell Stimulus, Steps Up Pressure on Key Senators

Today, Robert Gibbs confirmed that Barack Obama will take his show on the road to sell the stimulus to the American people. Obama has scheduled open townhalls Monday in Elkhart, Indiana, and Tuesday in Ft. Myers, Florida.

As we reported yesterday, the White House tone on the stimulus has shifted noticeably over the past day and a half to a more “impatient” stance. We suggested that the White House may consider targeting specific states where the small number of moderate Republicans live, and potentially other states where reside the bipartisan group seeking to reduce the total price tag on the stimulus from $900 billion to $800 billion.

At the top of today’s questioning, Gibbs highlighted this morning’s expectedly dismal monthly unemployment report of 598,000 new filers, citing an unprecedented 13-month period of job loss since the recession began in December of 2007.

Then Gibbs sent an unmistakable signal of ramping up pressure on specific Senators. “Last month the economy lost 598,000 jobs. That is the equivalent of losing every job in the state of Maine.”

Hello Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

“In the past two months, the economy lost 1.2 million jobs. That’s basically losing every job in Pittsburgh or in Cleveland,” Gibbs continued.

Got that, Arlen Specter (R-PA)? Do you feel me, George Voinovich (R-OH)?

“In the past three months, the economy has lost 1.8 million jobs,” Gibbs ticked off next. “That’s the equivalent of losing every job in Connecticut, or South Carolina.”

Lindsey Graham (R-SC), someone besides Barbara Boxer noticed you waving the bill around yesterday.

Joe Lieberman (I-Whatever), that’s a shot across your bow too.

Elkhart, Indiana and Ft. Myers, Florida, where Obama will host townhalls early next week, are home states to Sens. Evan Bayh, Richard Lugar and Mel Martinez. These are senators that the Obama administration hoped would ultimately support the stimulus bill. Bayh and Martinez have been part of the group of Senators trying to cut approximately $100 billion out of the stimulus bill.

When I asked after the briefing about the striking state call-outs, the White House flatly denied any correlation or message-sending. Nevertheless, Gibbs’ comments were clearly rehearsed, leveraged off today’s expected bad jobs numbers. For example, New Hampshire has roughly the same number of jobs as Maine. Gibbs said “Pittsburgh” and “Cleveland” for his 1.2 million-in-two-months comment, but why not cite Nevada or Kansas instead? I’m sure we could do a regression model on the likelihood of Gibbs randomly citing those specific states, and I’m sure we’re talking an extreme longshot, despite the White House’s denials.

The change in tone continues to be obvious. Last night’s speech to the Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, included this Obama sarcasm:

So then you get the argument, well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is? (Laughter and applause.) That’s the whole point. No, seriously. (Laughter.) That’s the point. (Applause.) So — I mean, I get carried away. (Laughter.)

Gibbs characterized the President merely as “energized” today, in terms of getting this stimulus bill onto his desk. As polling on the bill shows Republican opposition solidifying and some small movement in the bill losing popularity — to be distinguished from becoming unpopular — Obama’s intention to adopt more campaign-style selling (this weekend’s Obama for America 2.0 economic stimulus house parties, the trips to Indiana and Florida, the prime-time news conference Monday) is revealing the “restless soul” that Gibbs described today.