Iowa fell hard for Obama in 2008. It was, as he said Tuesday, a state “that gave me a chance when no one else would.” That began with his victory in the Democratic caucuses, which helped him capture the nomination. He won the state by 10 percentage points against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the general election.
Today, Iowa appears to have reverted to the kind of closely divided politics of the previous decade, when Vice President Al Gore won the state by less than a percentage point in 2000 and President George W. Bush followed with a similarly razor-thin victory in 2004.
Other battlegrounds are quite competitive, but Iowa stands apart. It is hotly contested despite the bond Obama established with many voters here four years ago. And unlike in some other battleground states, such as Virginia or Colorado, the elements of the Obama coalition that can provide some protection against the currents flowing this year — a high proportion of African American and Latino voters and a much younger and more mobile population — do not exist in Iowa.
Still, that Romney is as strong a challenger as he is may surprise some people. In contrast with Obama, there has been no love affair between Romney and the Hawkeye State. Iowa was where he suffered a bitter defeat in the 2008 Republican caucuses that crippled his candidacy, and the state’s GOP base is so conservative that the former Massachusetts governor spent much of last year weighing whether to make a serious run in the 2012 caucuses.
What has turned this state into one of the nation’s prime battlegrounds is a combination of disaffection with the president, a weak national economy and the reality that Romney appears to be better suited to run in a general-election campaign than in caucuses dominated by activists who doubted his conservative convictions.
In his visit here Tuesday, Obama continued the rhetorical war with Romney and the Republicans that he started Monday over middle-class tax cuts. The president wants Congress to extend for all but the wealthiest Americans the George W. Bush-era tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year. Republicans want those cuts extended for all taxpayers.
To make his case, Obama visited a family in Cedar Rapids whose taxes could increase by $2,000 if the tax cuts expire, according to the president’s campaign, before speaking to a larger audience at Kirkwood Community College.