ATKINSON, Ill. (AP) -- In this small Illinois farming community not far from the Iowa border, a shiny new fire station being built is testament to the stimulus plan that the Obama administration hoped would rescue the nation's economy.
The construction job, which won a $1.3 million grant, was the kind of project the White House thought would create jobs in small towns across the nation, all the better if the locals gave Obama a little of the credit.
In the midst of a political storm over the state of the economy on his watch, Obama will find out if that's the case when he holds one of two Illinois town halls in the community Wednesday as he wraps up a three-cay, campaign-style bus tour in the Midwest. The town of 1,000 is rolling out the red carpet for him by lining parts of its main thoroughfares with more than 900 donated American flags.
Even before Obama sets foot in town, he has earned the praise of fire chief Bob Floming. Floming looks forward to the day this fall when the station is scheduled to open and he can fit all of their equipment inside instead of having to use a pole barn to hold the volunteer department's three big rigs.
"I credit him for it, I really do," Floming said of Obama.
And there's a constant reminder for anyone who doesn't. The construction site on one of the town's main drags is adorned with a sign reminding residents where most of the money came from: "Project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act." Floming said the fire department also raised an additional $500,000.
Although Roxie Diericx, who works at a corner bar in downtown Atkinson, called Obama's visit a "one in a lifetime thing," she said some people in town don't give him credit for the new fire station, which she called a terrific addition.
"They think that, you know, well, look who's paying for it, we're still paying for it," she said.
Obama has endured withering criticism from some Republicans, especially those hopefuls who want his job next year, over his handling of the economy and the big spending in the stimulus program. A showdown in Congress, where Republicans control the U.S. House, resulted in deep cuts to federal spending in a deal over the nation's debt.
Atkinson and the even smaller community of Alpha about 40 miles away, where Obama will hold his second town hall on Wednesday, are in Republican-leaning Henry County, a corn and soybean-rich area about 150 miles from Chicago.
Obama carried the county in 2008 but it voted solidly Republican last year for Illinois governor and for Obama's former U.S. Senate seat. The county also is the territory of two freshman Republican congressmen who were swept into office last year on the GOP wave that cost Democrats control of the House. But Illinois' congressional district lines have since been changed to make it less favorable for the GOP in a Democrat-controlled remap that is being challenged in federal court.
Henry County is also doing better when it comes to jobs than the rest of Illinois, which had a 9.2 percent unemployment rate in June compared to 6.9 percent in Henry County.
Atkinson veterinarian Carl Brinkmann plans to attend Obama's town hall, although he said he didn't vote for him in 2008 and won't vote for him in 2012.
"I'm excited for the people that are excited," Brinkmann said of Obama's visit, "but this debt is just nuts and I don't think he understands that yet."
Brinkmann doubts Obama will get any tough questions at the Atkinson town hall.
"This is touted as a, you know, what-the-American-people-think tour but frankly, you know, everybody knows it's a political tour," he said.