President Obama’s three-day bus tour of the Midwest came to an abrupt end Thursday after a campaign bus pileup that left the president’s black bus tangled with those ferrying the three Republican presidential candidate frontrunners.

President Obama’s three-day bus tour of the Midwest came to an abrupt end Thursday after a campaign bus pileup that left the president’s black bus tangled with those ferrying the three Republican presidential candidate frontrunners.


Neither the president nor any of the presidential hopefuls were injured in the four-bus crash, but the small town of Peosta, Iowa, where the vehicles collided, sustained an estimated $400 billion in damage.


Though witnesses said the pileup was caused by the reckless driving of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the latest entrant into the field of presidential candidates, Republicans were quick to fault the president for the mishap, and a new Gallup poll showed that Mr. Obama’s driving favorability rating had dropped below 50 percent for the first time since he took office.


It was the latest setback for the president in a summer in which he has been under siege in the White House. The bus tour of the Midwest was supposed to provide him with campaign-style opportunities to strike back at Republicans in a region vital to his re-election. But after Thursday’s accident, Mr. Obama found himself again dragged into an unnecessary fight with rivals over who was at fault in the accident.


Climbing out of his banged-up bus and staring angrily at its red and blue lights that were now flashing chaotically, a clearly frustrated Mr. Obama rolled up his sleeves and lit into his GOP opponents.


“You’ve got to send a message to Washington that it is time for these games — this adolescent kind of driving — to stop,” he told a crowd of 500 who had gathered under a canopy of elm and black walnut trees to take in the accident scene. “First, the Republicans drove the economy into the ditch; now they’re trying to drive me into a ditch.


“When I hand the keys over to my daughters, Malia and Sasha, they act far more responsibly than these people,” Mr. Obama added, fixing a disdainful eye on the dented buses that had been ferrying members from the Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney campaigns.


Witnesses say the bus smashup occurred at about 2:40 p.m. after the bus transporting Mr. Perry’s contingent sped past its three-SUV motorcade and tried to pass the Bachmann bus, which was traveling the wrong way on a highway entrance road. The two rival vehicles, jockeying for advantage at high speed, careened onto the highway against the oncoming traffic and smashed into the president’s bus.


Mr. Perry, grinning broadly, kissing babies, high-fiving young boys and warmly embracing older women who had gathered to take in the spectacle, fully admitted “to going against the president’s wishes” by broad siding his bus, but he argued it wasn’t his — Mr. Perry’s — driving but rather Washington that was at fault.


“I get a little bit passionate when I’m behind the wheel,” Mr. Perry said. “I think you want a president who is passionate about America — that’s in love with America and that could care less about its rules of the road.”


Mr. Perry also tossed criticism at Mr. Romney, saying the former Massachusetts governor drives like a Washington insider.


“Take a look at his record, and take a look at my record,” Mr. Perry said. “I wasn’t driving to Wall Street. I wasn’t driving to work at Bain Capital.”


Ms. Bachmann, who delayed her appearance until campaign staffers had filled out the crowd to make for a better photo op, thanked her supporters and said with their help she could make sure that Mr. Obama would have to hitchhike back to the White House.


“Thank you everyone. We did this together,” she said. Ms. Bachmann called the collision with the president’s bus “a wonderful down payment,” adding that “what we saw happen today is the very first step toward taking the White House in 2012.”


The representative from Minnesota then abruptly went back into her dented titanium bus to touch up her makeup and then reemerged with an apple pie, which she offered to the oldest Republican witness at the crash site.


Mr. Romney, whose aides said only ended up in the crash because he took a wrong turn in New Hampshire, seemed the most chagrined of the group. With one foot up on a hay bale, he leaned forward into the crowd and asked for patience as he tried to collect himself.


“Buses are people, too,” a choked up Mr. Romney explained as he gazed sadly at the damage done to his high-end bus, which he had nicknamed Seamus.


Mr. Obama had hoped to spend time on the tour promoting his administration’s commitment to rural America, talking about plans to develop alternative fuels, erect windmills and extend broadband networks to remote farms. But those visions took a back seat to the bus crash.


“I know you’re frustrated,” Mr. Obama said, kicking at one of the flashing lights on his toppled bus, “and I’m frustrated, too.”


Philip Maddocks can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.