RICHMOND, Va. – His sleeves rolled up and his finger stabbing the air, President Obama pitched his newly unveiled jobs plan with campaign-style fervor Friday, urging Americans to pressure their lawmakers to pass his $447 billion initiative. “We’re tougher than these times,” he declared. “We are bigger than the smallness of our politics.”

Venturing out of Washington to promote his initiative, Obama’s first stop after addressing a joint session of Congress on Thursday was on the home turf of one of his top Republican antagonists. Speaking at the University of Richmond, in the district represented by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Obama made a full-throated appeal for public support, punctuating his remarks with a sharp refrain: “Pass this bill!”

“It will jump-start an economy that has stalled,” Obama said, conceding that a nation stuck at 9.1 percent unemployment is no longer in recovery.

It was the first of many expected efforts by the president to rally public support for his program. He and his advisers have made it clear that he intends to build pressure on lawmakers by emphasizing the urgency of acting on his proposals this fall and making sure they are held accountable if nothing passes. Next week he plans to go to Columbus, Ohio, a city represented by Republican congressmen and a state that is home to House Speaker John Boehner.

“I’m asking all of you to lift up your voices,” he said. “I want you to call, I want you to email, I want you to tweet, I want you to fax, I want you to visit, I want you to Facebook, send a carrier pigeon, I want you to tell your congressperson the time for gridlock and games is over, the time for action is now.”

The stalled economic recovery and high unemployment numbers have dogged Obama for months, lowering his approval ratings and endangering his re-election. But Congress has fared even worse in the eyes of the public, giving Obama some public relations leverage.

Still, as president, he bears ultimate responsibility.

“It’s not about what he says here today,” said Tom Walsh, a University of Richmond employee and father of six. “It’s his performance and actions and effectiveness after this in dealing with this economy. It’s what happens between now and voting time.”

Nearly 9,000 people packed an arena on the university campus for an assembly that had all the feel of a political rally. The largely supportive crowd cheered enthusiastically as Obama outlined details of his jobs plan and broke into chants of “USA!” when the president ensured that America can compete with growing global powerhouses like China.

The White House said the choice of destination Friday had more to do with Richmond’s proximity to Washington than taking a jab at the Virginia Republican, who has been one of the president’s fiercest critics. Cantor did say Friday that he’d be willing to work with the White House on a job-creation plan as long as Obama doesn’t pursue an “all-or-nothing” strategy.

After a summer of gridlock and partisan fighting over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, Obama said he still held out hope that Republicans would rally behind his proposals and applauded the compromising tone set recently by Boehner and Cantor.

“Folks sometimes think they’ve used up the benefit of the doubt, but I’m an eternal optimist, I’m an optimistic person,” he said. “I believe if you just stay at it long enough, after they’ve exhausted all the other options, folks do the right thing.”

The plan the president laid out Thursday night in his nationally televised speech contains $253 billion in tax cuts and $194 billion in new spending. It would increase and extend a Social Security payroll tax cut for workers. It also provides a tax cut to employers.