As his approval ratings hit a record low, President Barack Obama set out on Monday morning on a three day bus tour of small Midwest towns to discuss politics, the economy, the national debt, and the 2012 elections with citizens in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois.

In his first speeches in Cannon Falls, Minn. and Decorah, Iowa, Obama explained his economic policies and pushed back against criticism that he isn't doing enough to spur the economy and address high unemployment.

Iowa has been a political focus in recent days with a Saturday poll showing the state's favorites among Republican presidential candidates for the 2012 election.

The Republicans say Obama is doing little to pump life into an ailing U.S. economy.

Obama reiterated his call for Congress to extend payroll tax cuts, act on trade bills and pass measures to create construction jobs.

After spending much of the summer caught up in bitterly partisan negotiations on the debt crisis -- that severely cut into his approval ratings and those of members of Congress -- Obama's tour is, in part, an attempt to show the small town citizens that he understands what is going on outside of Washington and that he hears their frustrations.

Obama hopes to separate himself from the bitter divides of Washington and regain the support of the everyday Americans.

READ ALSO: Obama Bus Tour: The President's Midwest Itinerary

On the first day of his bus tour, Obama held relatively informal town hall-style meetings in country fields in front of quaint barns with bursting haystacks, filling out the backdrop with manicured Americana.

Have a look at the first day-and-a-half of the Obama bus tour as the president tries to reshape his image in the minds of the American citizens: