By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 5:11 PM
DES MOINES - Back in Iowa, President Obama got an earful Wednesday from voters about two of his key policies: health care, and his desire to roll back Bush-era tax cuts.
In a state with a highly educated electorate - and where voters are accustomed to challenging aspiring presidents every four years - Obama did his share of listening while audience members did a big portion of the talking.
Standing in the back yard of a resident, Obama stood patiently as one woman described, at length, her fears that the U.S. health-care system will soon resemble that of Great Britain. Next, a man spent several minutes describing the way his small business works - and his unhappiness with the prospects of a tax hike.
When the man veered off into his thoughts on Chinese currency, Obama interrupted.
"Okay, we're going way afield now," Obama said, jumping in to address part of the man's earlier observations.
In attendance was Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, the Democratic incumbent, who is in an uphill fight against former Republican governor Terry Branstad. A recent Des Moines Register poll shows Branstad leading Culver, 52 percent to 33 percent. Obama owes Culver to some extent: The Iowa governor endorsed him during the 2008 primary process, although it was a month after he had won that state.
Still, White House officials insisted the event Wednesday was not a campaign event for Culver, but rather an effort to help Obama reconnect with various parts of the country.
In contrast with his backyard discussion in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Albuquerque on Tuesday, the Des Moines stop on Wednesday was in an upscale neighborhood. ("This is a nice neighborhood," Obama said, noting the large, leafy trees). He visited the sprawling back yard of Sandy Hatfield Clubb, a Bethesda native and the athletic director at Drake University, and her husband Jeff, who is a social studies and religion teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic school. About 70 invited guests mingled and snacked on breakfast food as they waited for Obama to arrive after making a mid-morning trip to the gym.
The official topic in Iowa was "challenges currently facing the middle class," part of a series of similar economy-driven stops. But it was also a little bit of a nostalgia tour: Obama dropped by Baby Boomers Cafe, the restaurant that serves a chocolate chip cookie made popular by Obama and his campaign staff in 2008.
Later Wednesday, Obama travels to Richmond, where the topic will be "tax cuts and the deficit," according to the White House briefing sheet. There, he will meet with residents Matt and Stephanie Perry at the Southampton Recreation Association.
The Richmond stop brings Obama directly to the district of one of his most ardent critics: Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican House whip. It is a sign of how willing the president has grown to take the political fight to the Republican Party. Several weeks ago, he flew to Cleveland to counter a speech given there by House Minority Leader John Boehner. On Wednesday, he will continue pushing back against the recently released GOP pledge, administration officials said.
"What better place to draw a contrast with Republican plans to drive up deficits and go back to their old policies than right in this district?" deputy press secretary Bill Burton said.