U.S. President Barack Obama kicked off a bus tour Monday of three Midwestern states in an attempt to halt the Republicans' surge in popularity among voters and boost his sagging approval ratings.

Obama, whose popularity rating is below 40 percent according to the latest polls, is focusing the message of his tour of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois on job creation, the problem that most concerns voters at the moment.

The message is his attempt to regain the initiative after two weeks of political brawling about the debt ceiling and last weekend's Iowa Straw Poll, which showed Tea Party favorite Michelle Bachmann leading the Republican presidential hopefuls.

At a town hall with voters Monday in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, the president asked for their help in advancing job-creation measures.

"There is no shortage of ideas to put people to work right now. What is needed is action on the part of Congress," Obama told the crowd. "You've got to send a message to Washington that it is time for the games to stop, it is time to put country first."

"I'm not here just to enjoy the nice weather, I'm here to enlist you in the fight," he said. "We are fighting for the future of the country."

The president was to take part Monday afternoon in another town hall in Decorah, Iowa, where he will spend the night before continuing his first bus tour since becoming president in 2009.

Obama's visit to an area that supported him in the 2008 elections comes at a time of great anxiety in the United States because of the instability of the markets, the weak economic recovery and an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, all of which have contributed to his decline in popularity.

According to the daily survey by the Rassmussen firm, only 20 percent of voters "strongly approve" of Obama's administration, while 42 percent "strongly disapprove."

At the same time a Gallup poll released Sunday showed that Obama's approval rating slipped to a new low of 39 percent, compared with a 54 percent disapproval of his administration.

Though Obama insists that he inherited the problems afflicting the United States, Republicans reply that his policies have made the situation worse with the loss of 2.4 million jobs since 2009 and a $3.9 trillion increase in the national debt.

Over the past year, the labor market had an average growth of 105,000 jobs a month, fewer than the usual monthly average of 125,000. However, job growth in July reached 117,000, a considerably better figure than analysts expected.