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Election Spotlight Returns To Iowa


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Iowa is at the center of political attention for the second time this year. The scene of a presidential caucus back in January is a swing state come this fall. President Obama campaigns there next week, and Mitt Romney visited yesterday.

Here's NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Iowa's reputation for plain, Midwestern modesty is getting blown apart in this sweltering school auditorium. John Strong wears an American flag shirt and a cherry red jacket with a great big homemade button pinned to the lapel.

JOHN STRONG: In Obama we trusted. Now our economy is busted.

SHAPIRO: Across the auditorium from him, Gordon Smith wears a homemade T-shirt.

GORDON SMITH: My shirt says: a free America or Obama-nation - question mark, question mark.

SHAPIRO: He thought of the slogan when he was reading about the debt.

SMITH: And I wrote down: it's an abomination - not Obama-nation, but abomination. And then I thought, that sounds like Obama.

SHAPIRO: Before the Iowa caucuses, candidates like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum whipped crowds into an anti-Obama fervor.

But now that Romney is the last man standing, the anti-Obama passion has found its new home.


SHAPIRO: Iowa's unemployment rate is actually three points below the national average. That's good news for President Obama, and it's reflected in statewide polls that give the Democrat a slight lead.

Romney supporter Joan Samp isn't worried about what the polls say.

JOAN SAMP: I feel that a lot of people, when they get in the voting booth, may not vote for Obama, but they don't want to say anything because they don't want to be called racist. And I think they hoped it would all turn out. They had wonderful feelings four years ago, but in the privacy of the booth, I think it might make a difference.

SHAPIRO: Even a Democrat sees that disillusionment. Brad Elwinger plans to vote for the president, but he can see why people might not.

BRAD ELWINGER: They thought Obama would be this post-partisan, you know, new guy that would change the way politics worked in Washington. I think people have seen that Washington's kind of the same old thing, and he hasn't changed anything.

SHAPIRO: Iowa only has six electoral votes. But it's important enough that the president is spending three days here next week.

Donna Hoffman is a political scientist at the University of Northern Iowa. She says the Obama campaign has built up a ton of infrastructure here.

DONNA HOFFMAN: The Romney campaign has fewer offices. They are setting those up now. They are starting to get people going out and doing calls, canvassing, that kind of thing. But the Obama campaign had the jump on them for several months.

SHAPIRO: After the caucuses in January, the Romney campaign moved out of its Iowa headquarters - an old Blockbuster video store in Des Moines. A couple months later, a new tenant leased the space: the Obama reelection campaign.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, traveling with the Romney campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.