President Barack Obama often says Iowa holds a special place in his heart. Iowans in 2008 lifted him from underdog presidential hopeful to Democratic caucus winner, and gave him 54 percent of the vote in that year’s general election.
He began a three-day bus tour through the state today on less sure footing, with polls showing Iowa up for grabs in November. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sent his newly-announced running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, to the Iowa State Fair today to try to steal some of Obama’s thunder.
Obama is using Ryan’s presence to make the argument that Republicans are obstructionists, saying the lawmaker is “one of the leaders of Congress standing in the way” of passing a farm bill that would provide relief from the drought.
“So, if you happen to see Congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to Iowa and our rural communities,” Obama said at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs.
Obama’s schedule in Iowa represents a significant investment of time in a swing state that’s worth just six electoral votes, a fraction of Ohio’s 18 or Florida’s 29.
His itinerary also reflects a tradition of presidential candidates engaging one-on-one with voters in the state.
“Iowa is a state that’s won on the ground, going door to door, neighbors talking to neighbors and candidates talking directly to Iowans,” said Obama’s Iowa communications director Erin Seidler.
The president’s visit also comes as polling shows a close contest in Iowa between Obama, 51, and Romney, 65, who campaigned in Iowa last week. Obama leads Romney 45.3 percent to 44.3 percent in an average of four state polls since May compiled by the website Real Clear Politics.
The trip shows Obama is concerned about his slipping popularity, according to Romney Iowa strategist David Kochel.
“A state he won by nine points four years ago is requiring a three-day bus tour,” Kochel said. “He’s trying to address what is a lot of buyer’s remorse out here.”
Iowans “feel responsible for launching President Obama,” he said. “He’s trying to capture some of the magic from four years ago, but the thrill is gone.”
Des Moines pollster J. Ann Selzer, whose firm conducts surveys for Bloomberg News, said Obama’s decision to spend three consecutive days in Iowa suggests that “he thinks it’s that close,” and also that he thinks he can “rekindle the fire.”
“Every list that talks about how he gets to the number of electoral votes he needs includes Iowa,” Selzer said. “It’s part psychological for him to come back to a place that felt like maybe it represents the people who understood the promise of his candidacy in 2008 but who also felt disappointment that the promise wasn’t exactly delivered.”
In speaking to supporters, Obama sought to reestablish the connections he made four years ago.
“I love being back in Iowa,” Obama said in Council Bluffs. Early in the 2008 campaign “you believed me and I believed in you,” he said.
Ryan at Fair
While Obama made his second stop, at a farm in Missouri Valley, Iowa, Ryan was at the state fair in Des Moines, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) away. He criticized government spending under Obama’s administration and said the president’s policies are stifling growth.
Romney “is a man who actually knows how to create jobs,” Ryan said. Obama plans to go to the fair later today.
Romney is campaigning today in Florida, another crucial swing state.
Obama added Ryan to his standard campaign message on taxes and the economy.
While calling him a “good man,” Obama said Ryan is “the ideological leader” of congressional Republicans, who he blamed for obstructing measures to boost the nation’s economic recovery and for pushing to roll back regulations.
“He’s an articulate spokesman” for Romney’s vision, Obama said. “But that vision is one that I fundamentally disagree with.”
Obama hit topics of particular interest in Iowa, including extending a wind-energy tax credit that’s popular in the state, which has the second highest wind power capacity in the U.S. Romney opposes the credit.
The president also talked about the drought that’s affecting farmers, and his administration announced $170 million in government meat and poultry purchases to help farmers and ranchers. Obama touted the economic impact on the agriculture industry of trade agreements he’s signed. Iowa is the leading U.S. producer of corn, soybeans, pork and ethanol.
The bus tour was moving from west to east, through Council Bluffs, Boone, Oskaloosa, Marshalltown, Waterloo, Dubuque and Davenport. The stops encompass Republican- and Democrat-dominated parts of the state, areas where Latinos represent a growing share of the vote, and local economies shaped by wind energy, agriculture and manufacturing.
Seidler said Romney’s opposition to extending the wind energy manufacturing tax credits and lack of engagement with congressional Republicans on the U.S. farm bill, set to expire in September, makes him vulnerable in traditionally Republican parts of the state.
“Wind and agriculture are very tangible things to Iowans,” Seidler said. “The base of our economy is renewable fuels and agriculture and manufacturing.”
Iowa got 15.4 percent of its power from wind in 2010, and the industry supports directly and indirectly 4,000 to 5,000 jobs in the state, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
There are about 75,000 U.S. wind-industry workers, including jobs in manufacturing, according to the association. Letting the credit expire will lead to the elimination of 10,000 wind-industry jobs this year and another 27,000 in 2013, the Washington-based trade group estimates.
While Iowa’s jobless rate was 5.2 percent in June, below the nation’s 8.2 percent rate, the state was 13th on the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States index for improving economic health from the first quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of this year.
The index combines data on tax collections, personal income, employment, home prices, mortgage foreclosures and stock performance of companies located in a state.
Kochel said Romney is engaged on farm issues and that Iowans are most concerned about the economy, the direction of the country and government debt. He said Romney’s policies would benefit wind-energy manufacturers by reducing regulations and reducing taxes on corporations.
“We’re going to fight for every inch of this state,” he said.