- His aides said it wasn’t a campaign stop.

But in his first visit to the Hawkeye State since September, President Obama acted like it was 2007, stopping at a diner, hugging babies, posing for pictures and ordering an unhealthy concoction called a “Magic Mountain” -- toast, steamed hamburger, hash browns, cheddar cheese and onions.

“Iowa, you and I go way back, we have some history together,” Obama declared to the loud applause of several hundred at a factory he visited after eating at Ross’ Restaurant.

Obama’s official reason to be here was to tour an Alcoa plant that makes alloys and wings for airplanes, citing it as an example of the manufacturing jobs the president wants to help create throughout the country. In his speech at the plant, the president noted that several presidential candidates were visiting the state, but he did not mention the word Republican or name any of his potential opponents.

His own stop in Iowa was also designed to help a candidate: Obama. After campaigning here extensively in the Democratic primaries, he easily won over voters in the general election in 2008.

But as his reelection campaign fires up, the president’s popularity has dropped in nearly every state, in part because the economic recovery remains sluggish. And he now has a special problem in Iowa: a field of Republicans bashing him nearly every day as they seek their party’s presidential nomination.

Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) was campaigning Tuesday in the northwestern part of the state, a day after Minnesota’s Rep. Michele Bachmann launched her candidacy by accusing Obama of running “ a government that has gotten too big and spends too much and has taken away too many of our liberties.”

And only a few hours after Obama’s stop in Bettendorf, perhaps his loudest critic, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, was scheduled to appear about 150 miles west in Pella for the premiere of “The Undefeated,” a documentary about her political rise.

Obama did not attempt to rebut his GOP critics on Tuesday, as he fulfilled a promise to an Iowan supporter from 2008.

In a town hall meeting that August, Obama promised Cynthia Friedhof, the owner of Ross’, that he would one day come to her diner.

“This is just beyond,” a surprised Friedhof said after Obama hugged her, adding that the White House had not told her the president was coming.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” he said.