CEDAR RAPIDS, iowa --- Officially, President Obama will have a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids July 10 to talk about tax reform and growing a middle-class economy.
Unofficially, the president is making his second foray into Cedar Rapids this year because “he knows that he’s in trouble in Iowa and this is a key battleground state,” according to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
The fifth-term Republicans has some experience in campaigns, but less partisan political observers tend to agree that Obama is coming to Iowa – again – out of necessity.
In 2008, Obama won carried Iowa – in the first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses and in the general election – “times have certainly changed,” says University of Iowa political scientist Tim Hagle. Democrats still support Obama, “but with markedly less enthusiasm than 2008.”
Obama’s frequent visits – four this year and five more by his wife, First Lady Michele Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden – are attempts to excite the base in the state that launched the first-term Illinois senator on the road to the White House in 2008, adds Donna R. Hoffman, chairwoman of the University of Northern Iowa Political Science Department.
“Obama is counting on its strong organization in Iowa and “an economy that is better than average to give him the edge in the state come November,” she says.
Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, hasn’t seen any drop off in enthusiasm from four years ago, but agrees Iowa’s strong economy helps the president make his case. He notes the tickets for Obama’s visit were gone in less than 24 hours. Enthusiasm also can be measured in a local campaign office “overflowing with volunteers,” Olson says.
“There’s no question that the president believes he has a great so try to tell in Iowa about strengthening the economy and the importance to the campaign to win Iowa in November,” Olson says.
He chalks up the frequent visits to the relatively even divide between Democrats and Republicans in Iowa.
“Iowa is a purple state. We have a Republican governor, Republican House, Democratic Senate,” Olson says. “It’s not any reflection on the president. We are a state with lot of no party voters.
The growing number of Iowans registered as Republicans reflects “a disillusioned Iowa where voters are frustrated with President Obama’s failed policies and his empty, endless promises,” says Tom Szold, the Republican National Committee’s Iowa Victory campaign spokesman.
The latest report from the Secretary of State’s Office shows 11,516 more Iowans registered as Republicans at the end of June than in May. That increases the GOP advantage over Democrats to 21,378 voters.
The changing voter registration pattern and the frequent Obama team visits “speaks to the uncertainty of the election and the electorate,” says UNI political scientist Chris Larimer.
“Polls indicate many voters, particularly young voters, are not all that enthusiastic about voting,” he says. “Coupled with a static economy, the race is coming down to who can excite folks to get to the polls.”
In fact, Hagle says, for Obama “it appears it’s more a matter of stopping voters from moving away from him.”
Neither Obama nor Romney need to win Iowa to win the election, says Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. But Iowa has symbolic importance.
“The Iowa caucuses gave Obama a tremendous boost to winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, so losing Iowa in 2012 would generate a lot of negative media commentary,” she says.
Similarly, she says, Romney carrying Iowa “would not only be embarrassing for the Democrats, but also give a boost to Republicans.”
Romney has to make a case for himself, too, Hagle says. “We are no gimme for him either.”