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Obama agenda: 'Show us what you got'

In what sounded like the real opening salvo to the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama, before a mostly union crowd estimated at 12,000, showed glimmers of the fighting spirit of 2008 with a Labor Day speech laying out the broad outlines of the jobs speech he will deliver Thursday before Congress.

Intimating he might “go big” in that Thursday speech, as his supporters would like, the president pushed for not only a renewal of the payroll tax cut but also construction jobs. And he said that while he is still willing to work with Republicans – and thinks that’s right for the country – he challenged the GOP to “show us what you got.”

"I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems,” he said, standing in automaker GM’s parking, adding, “But we’re not going to wait for them. We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.

“We’ll give them a plan, and then we’ll say, do you want to create jobs? Then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America. Do you want to help our companies succeed? Open up new markets for them to sell their products. You want -- you say you’re the party of tax cuts? Well then, prove you’ll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you got. The time for Washington games is over. The time for action is now. No more manufactured crises. No more games. Now is not the time for the people you sent to Washington to worry about their jobs; now is the time for them to worry about your jobs.”

The AP leads similarly: “President Obama used a boisterous Labor Day rally to put congressional Republicans on the spot, challenging them to place the country’s interests above all else and vote to create jobs and put the economy back on a path toward growth.”

The top headline out of the Detroit Free Press: “Obama tells Detroit: I'll defend union rights.”

(There was controversy, however, with Teamsters President James Hoffa going before Obama and saying of the Tea Party: "President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march ... Let's take these son-of-a-bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.” That has drawn the ire of conservative groups, who want an apology.)

But here’s the new political reality Obama is facing, per our new NBC/WSJ poll: “When Barack Obama unveils his jobs and economic plan to a joint session of Congress on Thursday, he'll do so at the lowest point of his presidency, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. After the bruising debt-ceiling fight — as well as Standard & Poor's subsequent downgrade of the nation's credit rating — Obama's job approval rating has sunk to a low of 44 percent, a 3-point drop since July. His handling of the economy stands at a low of 37 percent. And only 19 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, the lowest mark for this president.”

Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s take: “President Barack Obama this week will try to launch a political comeback amid the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and a growing sense of economic foreboding here and across the country among voters who are increasingly questioning their president's skills and priorities.”

The new Washington Post/ABC poll is pretty similar to the NBC/WSJ one. "More than 60 percent of those surveyed say they disapprove of the way the president is handling the economy and, what has become issue No. 1, the stagnant jobs situation. Just 43 percent now approve of the job he is doing overall, a new career low; 53 percent disapprove, a new high." 

And here's the Politico/George Washington Univ. Battleground Poll: Capturing a rapid erosion of confidence through the summer months, the poll found 72 percent of voters believe the country is either strongly or somewhat headed in the wrong direction, a jump of 12 percentage points since May. Only 20 percent of voters say the country is going in the right direction, a 12-point drop in the same period.