By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama headed to Minneapolis on Thursday, the first stop in series of summer road trips where he will aim to spend a "day in the life" of an ordinary American and persuade voters that the White House understands their challenges.
The trip is also aimed at reconnecting Obama with Democrats ahead of midterm elections where Republicans stand a good chance of taking control of the Senate, jeopardizing the chance to accomplish goals for his last two years in office.
Obama will have lunch with Rebekah Erler, an accountant in St. Paul with two young sons who told CBS Minnesota she struggles to pay the bills.
Erler, whose LinkedIn profile shows she was once a field organizer for Democratic Senator Patty Murray, wrote to Obama earlier this year to express her frustrations about the economy.
"We live, you know, a pretty modest lifestyle. We budget, we clip coupons, we shop at two grocery stores because we know what costs less, where," Erler said in the interview with CBS Minnesota ahead of the visit.
Obama will hold a town hall meeting with invited guests on Thursday, and on Friday will give a speech on the economy.
Obama's job approval ratings have slid to 41 percent, Gallup said on Tuesday, with voters concerned about the economy and the way the White House has handled the insurgency in Iraq.
"This is the president's attempt to show the public and the media that hasn't lost touch with those who believed in him, despite what polls may show," said Peter LaMotte, a senior vice president at Levick, a crisis communications firm.
"There is little chance that an election-style campaign will do much to change the polling numbers," LaMotte said.
Obama has campaigned relentlessly this year for populist issues like raising the minimum wage, and has told Democrats they need to vote in November in tight congressional races.
He will get a chance to make that point again at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee held at a private home on Thursday night.
Politicians know there can be peril in being portrayed as out of touch with regular folks.
Republicans have recently sought to capitalize on an off-tone remark by Hillary Clinton, likely to be a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, who described her family as "dead broke" after leaving the White House in 2000.
Republicans are expected to dismiss Obama's "day in the life" road trips as preaching to the choir.
But one Capitol Hill Republican aide was less skeptical.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott regularly spends time with regular people in his state, sweeping floors at a burrito shop, riding the city bus for a few hours, listening to issues - incognito.
"I definitely think he gets a much fresher perspective," said Scott's communications director, Sean Smith, explaining constituents are more apt to give his boss the unvarnished truth when they don't know who he is.
Surrounded by a bubble of security and an entourage, Obama is unlikely to have a completely similar experience but may get to spend time with people with diverse views, Smith said.
"As long as they haven't made it just a room of supporters, then hopefully he'll learn some things," he said.
"It should be a good eye-opener for him."
(Editing by Eric Walsh and Meredith Mazzilli)