US President Barack Obama returned to Iowa to rekindle a romance with the fabled political swing state, but Republicans insist there is no mending a relationship that is on the rocks.
Obama on Wednesday wrapped up a bus tour of the state that nurtured his improbable 2008 White House dreams, billing himself as an “adopted son” and pleading with voters to give him one more chance.
“I see myself in you,” Obama had said three days earlier in an intimate parkland gathering in the central town of Boone.
Iowa, which kicks off party nominating contests every four years, likes to see its candidates up close, shake hands and look them in the eyes.
The Obama campaign recreated that cozy feel as Obama’s armored bus rolled across the prairies — as much as possible for a man who travels in a 30-vehicle motorcade, with SWAT teams and a press pack.
“It was on your front porches and in some of your backyards where our movement for change started,” Obama said.
After three days munching signature delicacies like pork on a stick and quaffing local brews — a Des Moines crowd chanted “four more beers” instead of “four more years” — Obama enlisted his wife Michelle to ramp up the nostalgia.
“Thank you for the kindness, generosity and love that you have shown our family,” the popular First Lady said at a rally at a red-brick brewery in the town of Dubuque.
“Every election, you all remind us what democracy is all about.”
Iowa has only six electoral votes of the 270 needed to claim the White House — but to Obama it seems to mean more.
Aides say the president has a genuine affection for Iowans, thankful they helped him beat Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic nominating race.
This week, it seemed Obama was using the midwestern state to inject inspiration into his presidency four years on, as a stalling economy threatens his reelection.
“Our journey is not over, it is not done,” he roared.
Mitt Romney’s Republicans see Iowa as a stepping stone on a tough political road to the White House and think they have a real shot here.
The fact Obama spent three days in the state — an inordinate amount of presidential time — shows his campaign is in “panic” mode, a senior Romney advisor said.
“They are trying to recapture the magic,” he said, arguing that Iowans swayed by Obama’s “lofty rhetoric” four years ago were dismayed by an under-achieving presidency.
“The magic is simply not there.”
The Obama campaign counters that Iowa voters will see through Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who failed to win the Iowa caucus nominating contests in either of his presidential runs in 2008 or 2012.
An Obama official said Romney had failed to provide voters in Iowa specifics on his policies and cited Obama’s support for an auto bailout which Romney opposed which supports a large number of jobs in Iowa.
During his tour, Obama also highlighted support for an extension to a wind energy tax credit to aid the wind farms that have sprouted all over the state, which Romney opposes.
He also demanded Congress pass a mammoth farm bill, which would help Iowa farmers facing a drought.
On Wednesday, before a crowd including many seniors, Obama warned Romney and Republican running mate Paul Ryan would gut the state-run with benefit cuts to the Medicare health program for seniors.
Iowa once loved Obama — not just in the 2008 caucuses — he beat Republican John McCain by 54 to 44 percent in the general election.
But does it still?
Both sides insist they are well positioned for 2012, and both are deploying armies of campaign volunteers from a dozen local offices each.
“We know this is going to be” close, said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “We’re not taking a single vote for granted.”
Recent state polling is fairly thin but Obama leads by a single point in a RealClearPolitics.com poll average.
The Obama campaign points to the unemployment rate in the state of 5.2 percent, three points below the national average, which may blunt Romney’s assaults on the president’s economic record.
Republicans claim their base is more enthused than Democrats, and predict the “Obama generation” of students that backed the president in 2008 will be thinned out as graduates fail to find jobs.
They also believe hammering Obama on the bloated US budget deficit will bear fruit.
Obama’s fairly small events in Iowa were a far cry from the heady early months of his primary campaign in 2007.
On one memorable night back then, he and First Lady Michelle Obama led a dancing, jumping singing crowd into a hall where Obama electrified an annual Democratic dinner.
But as the sun set across the Cedar River in Waterloo this time around, Obama did seem to turn back the clock, holding a hushed crowd in thrall, cheering aides who believe he can make Iowa his second political home again.