Reporting from Washington — An energized President Obama took a feisty message on the road Thursday, hammering home the points of his State of the Union address and suggesting he has plenty of political fight left in him as he enters his second year in office.
At a town-hall-style meeting in Tampa, the president laughed and joked with a buoyant crowd, poking fun at political opponents and offering a lighthearted critique of recent media coverage that he disliked.
Though his mood was light, Obama had a clear message for those who threatened his healthcare plans and who hoped to chip away at his political capital in the months leading to this fall's midterm congressional elections: He's not giving up on his agenda.
"The easiest way to keep your poll numbers high is to say nothing and to do nothing that offends anybody. . . . You just wave and smile," Obama said, waving and smiling, as the crowd laughed along with him.
"So long as we have the privilege of serving you," he said, "we will not stop fighting for your future, no matter how many lumps we've got to take."
The road he's on is tough, a point made in the days before he gave his first State of the Union address Wednesday. His approval ratings are suffering, and his healthcare overhaul is on the ropes. In an alarming sign for the president's Democratic Party, Republicans picked up a Senate seat in Massachusetts last week.
But in case any Democratic lawmakers are thinking about breaking ranks with the president, Obama sought to show what he could do for his allies.
For one thing, he brought a promise of money and jobs. At the University of Tampa, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden appeared together to announce an $8-billion award for high-speed rail projects across the country -- $1.25 billion of which would support a planned rail line between Tampa and Orlando. California is slated to receive up to $2.25 billion for plans to connect Anaheim and San Francisco with high-speed rail.
Biden was along to play wingman, at one point rising to take the president's coat as Obama entered his question-and-answer period.
"You answer all of the tough questions," the veteran former senator told Obama, "and I will hold the coat."
Obama hit hard on his themes of job creation and economic recovery, key issues as he starts work on holding onto the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate this year.
But he took issue with suggestions in recent media accounts that he was new to that line of work.
Some journalists "got worked up last week. They said, 'Is he trying to change his message? Is he trying to get more populist? Is this a strategy?' " Obama said.
"I've got some news of my own here," he said. "I've been fighting for working folks my entire adult life. . . . That's why I ran for president -- to fight for people all across the United States of America."
And Obama wasn't done with the word "fight."
He recalled what he had said in Tampa in 2008, two weeks before the presidential election.
"I said, 'Change never comes without a fight.' That was true then. It's true now."