President Barack Obama speaks at the town hall style meeting at the Lower Hannah's Bend Park Monday in Cannon Falls, Minn. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

His visit also comes just days after Republicans held their quadrennial straw poll in Ames, Iowa — an event filled with promises that the state would go for the eventual GOP nominee in November 2012.

“Iowa will be the pace car ... to set the tone and set the pace for bringing this country back to its greatness that it was intended for and that it was meant for,” Rep. Michele Bachmann promised during her speech at the straw poll.

Obama’s attention to the state, coupled with Republicans’ ramped-up rhetoric, raises an intriguing question: Is Iowa really a swing state?

J. Ann Selzer, who conducts polls for the Des Moines Register, says yes — pointing to the state’s U.S. Senate delegation. “With consistent, convincing wins for [Chuck] Grassley and [Tom] Harkin, Iowa is by definition a swing state,” said Selzer.

Grassley, a Republican, and Harkin, a Democrat, have represented the state in the Senate since 1980 and 1984, respectively. According to National Journal’s 2010 vote ratings, Grassley was the 28th most conservative senator in the chamber while Harkin was its 29th most liberal.

The willingness to elect — and elect and elect — senators as far apart on the ideological spectrum as Grassley and Harkin suggests that Iowans are not terribly tied to party labels.

The results of the past two elections in the state seem to affirm that sentiment. In 2010, Republicans won the governorship — defeating incumbent Chet Culver (D) handily — and took over control of the state House. (Grassley was also re-elected with a whopping 64.5 percent of the vote.)

But, just two years earlier, Obama carried the Hawkeye State with 54 percent and Harkin won with 63 percent.

Voter registration, which swung heavily to Democrats during the intensely competitive 2008 caucuses, has also begun to level out over the past two-plus years.

In November 2008, there were 699,000 registered Democrats, as opposed to 592,000 registered Republicans. oters unaffiliated with either party numbered 712,000.

By August 2011, Democrats’ advantage had been cut by more than half — 645,000 registered Democrats, as compared to 610,000 registered Republicans. There were 704,000 no-party voters as of August 1.

“There is enormous energy in the Republican Party right now,” said Sara Fagen, an Iowa native and former political director in the Bush White House.

The large number of unaffiliated voters makes Iowa a major test of Obama’s ability to repeat his 2008 feat when he carried independent voters by nine points nationwide. Republicans won independents by a whopping 19 points in the 2010 midterms as economic anxiety and the health care law passed by Congress pushed unaffiliated voters away from Democrats.

“It’s all about the independents,” said David Young, Grassley’s chief of staff. “And these prairie winds are causing them to lean towards the GOP.”

Iowa is also unique because of its first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. That status means that Iowans will spend the next six months hearing directly from Republican presidential candidates spouting stridently anti-Obama rhetoric in hopes of securing a key early victory in the nomination fight.

“[Obama] is tied down with his day job while 8-9 candidates argue every day, in almost every county, that he is doing a bad job,” said veteran Iowa Democratic operative Jeff Link.

That banging of the anti-Obama drum, coupled with “each campaigns’ organizational effort to register voters and generate new caucus supporters will have an impact on the general election,” predicted Link.

If Iowa is indeed closely contested, it could spell broader trouble for Obama. The state has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in five of the last six presidential elections, the notable exception being 2004 when George W. Bush eked out a 10,000-vote win on his way to a second term.

The more competitive Iowa turns out to be next November then, the worse shape Obama’s re-election campaign will likely be in.

Perry’s treason comment makes waves: Rarely known to mince words, it doesn’t look like Texas Gov. Rick Perry is going to start, now that he’s a presidential candidate.

After a day full of Perry-related headlines, he made perhaps his biggest late in the day, when he sugessted Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would be committing something short of treason by printing any more money between now and November 2012.

Perry suggested such a move would be politically motivated, because it would superficially prop up the economy (though it should be noted that Bernanke was first appointed by Bush). He also suggested that Bernanke would face some pretty serious Texas-style justice.

“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas,” Perry said. “Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion.”

It’s not yet clear if this remark will help or hurt Perry, but it’s certainly a new take on the country’s economic woes. It could galavanize populist support against Washington — a core Perry constituency — but already some Republicans are questioning the basis for the remarks.

The Romney/Perry contrast: Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s campaign is sending some strong signals about its topline strategy against Perry.

It goes like this: ‘Perry has been in elective office for 25 years, while I created jobs in the private sector for 25 years.’

Romney alluded to that contrast on Monday, saying during an appearance in New Hampshire that he was the only one in the field with both the long-term private sector experience and governing experience.

“I think understanding how the economy works by having worked in the real economy is finally essential for the White House, and I hope people recognize that,” he said.

This could work for Romney, because a lot of Perry’s appeal is grounded in his outsider credentials. Subtly pointing out that he’s actually been in office for more than two decades undermines that.

Allen West for Senate?: Firebrand freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), who previously said he wasn’t interested in running for Senate, is now keeping the door open a crack.

“I cracked it open enough so that people can slip a note under the door and I can read the note and I can write back on the note ‘probably not’ and send it back out under the door,” West told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

West still says he’s unlikely to run, but given how his already-difficult district could change under redistricting, it may be worthwhile for him to explore other options.

The GOP field to face Sen. Bill Nelson (D) doesn’t feature any prohibitive favorites, and West’s outspoken conservatism could do well in the primary.

Final recalls in Wisconsin tonight: Republicans have a chance to win one back in Wisconsin today, as the state holds its final recall elections for state Senate.

After Democrats took two out of six GOP-held seats last week but came up shy of retaking the majority, two Democrats face their own recalls, with the GOP particularly keen on beating state Sen. Jim Holperin (D).

A win over Holperin would undermine Democrats’ claims that their two victories last week were because of a backlash against Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) budget.

Both sides have said the Holperin race should be tight. The other Democratic state senator on the ballot Tuesday, Bob Wirch, looks quite a bit safer.


Perry says he didn’t step on Iowa’s toes by announcing his campaign the same day as the Ames Straw Poll.

Former President Bill Clinton says Perry is a “good-looking rascal” but has “crazy” ideas.

Perry’s first campaign video.

Perry responds to Bush comparisons: “I went to Texas A&M. He went to Yale.”

Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Texas) new ad ties the GOP frontrunners to Obama.

Former California state Assemblywoman Lori Saldana (D) will challenge Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) in the congressman’s tougher new district.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fundraises for Nevada special election candidate Kate Marshall (D).

Maine state Rep. John Hinck (D) lines up a challenge to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who is a popular centrist in her home state.

The Pawlenty-for-Senate talk picks up. But don’t hold your breath.


Obama kicks off Midwest bus tour with harsh words on the economy” — Zachart A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

Democrats being plotting Perry counterattack” — Jonathan Weisman, Wall Street Journal

Rick Perry’s cash dash sparks worries” — Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico


Perry warns of ‘treason’ at the Fed

Republican race snaps into focus

Clinton: Perry is a ‘good-looking rascal’