There is virtually a dead heat in Iowa in the presidential election. The Realclearpolitics average has President Obama up by an insignificant 0.2 percent, and the trend is plainly away from the president, who won the state by nearly 10 points last time. Even Democratic polling outfits see the movement: “PPP’s newest Iowa poll finds Barack Obama ahead of Mitt Romney by 2 points in a survey conducted over the weekend (47-45). This poll finds a change from the July 16 survey, where Obama was up by 5 (48-43). Candidate approval remains crucial in Iowa, as it identifies as a swing state for the upcoming Presidential election. Obama and Romney are neck and neck, with 45% of voters approving of Barack Obama’s job performance and 47% favorability to Mitt Romney.”

There are several factor that explain Romney’s bright prospects. Tim Albrecht communications director for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) says it is a matter of dashed expectations. “Iowans are disappointed and disenchanted with Obama’s performance. Iowans launched the hope and change candidate, only to see a divisive president who failed to deliver on his promises.” That disillusionment has affected the status of the two parties. He notes, “ On Inauguration Day in 2009, Democrats had a 112,000 voter registration edge. Now, the GOP leads by more than 20,000. That 122,000 flip is more Republicans than voted in the entire caucuses.”

The Romney team certainly agrees with the buyer’s remorse explanation. An Iowa campaign adviser in Tampa for the Republican National Convention says, “It is the state that launched Obama. It took pride in launching him. And a pretty quick buyer’s remorse set in.” He says voters there feel a “sense of obligation” to get it right this time around.

On the issues, Romney has a receptive audience when it comes to debt. Albrecht observes, “Iowa has the lowest credit card debt per capita in the country. Iowans hate debt. Gov. Branstad campaigned against [former Gov. Chet] Culver’s big debt stimulus plan and won.” He thinks Romney will do the same.

Romney also has Obamacare to fuel opposition to Obama. Romney’s Iowa adviser argues, “Obamacare is a huge problem for many Iowans. They see it is a job killer.”

Romney also has two factors going for him in Iowa that don’t apply everywhere in the country. Most important, he has essentially been campaigning in the state since 2006. They know him better than most voters, know his wife and know his sons. (Josh Romney in 2008 drove to all 99 counties.) He was able to establish his image years before Obama’s negative ad onslaught. The Iowa adviser sums up: “They feel a greater sense of connection to him [than most any other state’s voters].”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is also a help here. He’s a well know figure from the adjoining state, a candidate who comes from a town that looks much like a lot of Iowa small towns. Indeed, it would have been hard to come up with a GOP ticket that would be better known to Iowans than Romney-Ryan.

Plainly the polling has shaken the Obama camp. He has been in the state multiple times, including Tuesday. He’ll be back this weekend. This is not the sign of a confident campaign.

Iowa’s six electoral votes may prove critical. Romney could well carve a path to the White House through the upper Midwest (Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan). At the very least Obama is being forced to play defense on what was a slam-dunk state for him in 2008.