ANKENY, Iowa — Nearly all of the 15 or so members of American Legion Post 42 who gathered Wednesday night in this suburb north of Des Moines had long since decided to vote for Mitt Romney. But they were still looking for something: a better sense of the Republican presidential nominee as a leader, a plausible commander in chief, a man.
“Men are supposed to compete, control and conquer,” said Don Rose, 48, an Army veteran of the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama who sells real estate in this heavily Republican community.
Ninety minutes later, Rose said he saw most of it.
“He’s got that internal thing,” he said. “It’s confidence, experience.” And, he added, “good posture.”
Jeff Ringel, the post commander and a Vietnam War-era Air Force veteran, said he didn’t think it was even close.
“I saw someone who looked very presidential, and that was Romney,” said Ringel, 70. “He could have stood up there and not said a word and looked more presidential than Obama.”
Over Domino’s pizza and soft drinks, the veterans and a couple of spouses greeted President Obama’s answers with sullen silence and occasional sarcastic rejoinders. One woman rolled her eyes when Obama opened with a reference to his wedding anniversary.
The energy in the austere meeting hall was low in the early minutes, but applause for Romney increased in intensity as the candidate hit his marks: the vow to get rid of “Obamacare,” to foster a strong military and to promote personal responsibility. His assertion that he’d worked with Democrats and Republicans as Massachusetts governor and would “do it again” as president brought a final burst of sentiment.
“I think he was very well informed and laid out a good plan,” said Jeff Brookes, 43, another Army veteran who served in Panama.
In 2008, Obama defeated one of the nation’s most illustrious veterans, John McCain, by nearly 10 percentage points in Iowa. While Romney easily won over this tiny American Legion post, he faces a steep climb for this state’s six electoral votes. Obama leads 49 percent to 45 percent in the most recent Des Moines Register poll. But, as in many states, major misgivings linger. Half of Iowa adults disapprove of the job he is doing on the economy, an issue that 59 percent rank as important.
This state has been pounded with everything 21st-century campaigning can bring to bear for nearly two solid years — pillar-to-post TV and radio advertising, mail, obsessive door-knocking and phoning, 67 campaign offices and continuous candidate and surrogate visits.
The result, according to the Register poll, is that just 2 percent remain undecided — although 10 percent say they are persuadable, especially if they think Romney can do more for the economy.