President Barack Obama's three-day bus tour along the back roads of the Midwest was billed as a chance to listen and what he heard was that people are deeply worried.
Norma Haan in Morrison, Ill., fearful about her healthcare coverage, was hugged by Obama at the cow judging competition at the Whiteside County Fair, after telling him that she had just put her ailing husband into a nursing home.
A recovering cancer victim in Cannon Falls, Minn., explained that she had slept in her car for two days for a chance to question him about supplementary social security.
In Decorah, Iowa, standing before a red barn in the evening light and surrounded by hay bales, the president was taken to task for not being tougher on Republicans, and for compromising on things the Democrats who elected him wanted.
Minutes later he was confronted by a member of the local conservative Tea Party movement, and he took a number of hard-edged questions from people worried about rising regulation and the uncertainty it caused their business.
All along the 470-mile route, people have waited for a chance to wave as the motorcade led by his new sleek black bus slow-rolled through their towns.
Often they carried American flags. Sometimes they held placards denouncing his policies.
With a national jobless rate stuck above 9 percent, Obama faces serious doubts among Americans about his economic leadership. He is now trying to convince skeptical voters and Wall Street that he can improve the job market and keep the United States from dipping back into recession.
He has been criticized in recent weeks by political opponents and Wall Street for repackaging old job-growth ideas, and his own allies on the left charge he is not aggressive enough in demanding new spending to jump-start economic growth.
"Sometimes there are days in Washington that will drive you crazy," he said in Peosta, Iowa, already well into his trip through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
All three states, which he won in 2008, are vital for Obama to retain the White House next year, and the campaign trappings of the trip, with the blaring music of the townhall-style rallies, were unmistakable.
Mostly doing without a teleprompter, and taking the time to give full and often quite technical answers to questions that ranged from ethanol to cost of living adjustment in social security, Obama gave every impression of enjoying himself.
Howard Scott, who described himself as an Independent, said that the bus tour had been a great idea.
"I wouldn't care if he was a Democrat or a Republican, they need to get out to see the small people," he said at the fair in Morrison.