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Pace of Obama, Romney visits to Iowa ahead of 2008

This news story was published on August 13, 2012.
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James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

The 2012 presidential campaigns appear to be taking Iowa’s “Fields of opportunity” economic development marketing slogan to heart.

Consider that with 88 days until the election, nearly half of President Obama’s 10 visits to Iowa since taking office in 2009 have occurred this year. He’ll make his fifth 2012 visit when he spends three days in Iowa next week.

Obama already has matched the number of Iowa visits he made in 2008, when he carried the state by a 9 percentage points. He visited just once prior to the traditional Labor Day campaign kick-off.

His opponent, Republican John McCain, campaigned here five times in 2008, but only twice prior to September.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who spent two days in Iowa earlier this week, is on pace to pass McCain. He made just 11 visits to Iowa before the states’ first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses, but has been back four times since January.

University of Iowa political science instructor Tim Hagle isn’t sure either candidate will maintain their current pace of visits, but suspects they will be back before Nov. 6.

“They’ll be looking at their polls and as long as a state remains in that swing column and is part of their overall electoral strategy, they’ll put time in that state” Hagle says.

Looking at those polls, it’s no wonder the president will make a rare, if not unprecedented, three-day campaign visit, says Shawn McCoy of the Romney campaign in Iowa.

“I think he knows he’s lost the magic of 2008, and he’s looking for a way to get it back,” McCoy said.

Oh, there’s still plenty of magic, counters Erin Seidler of the Obama campaign. Obama for America in Iowa had 170 events – phone banking and door-knocking — during a weekend of action earlier this month.

So the three-day campaign swing isn’t so much about reclaiming the magic, but reconnecting to Iowans in the way they expect from their candidates, Seidler says.

“Really what this comes down to is the president knows that we can’t win on the airwaves, we win Iowa on the ground,” she says. “There’s still energy on the ground, there’s still support on the ground in a state that has always been close.”

“For the president to be able to take his message out to Iowans across the state is extremely important, to go into small communities, to go from coast-to-coast and to talk about his message about strengthening the middle class is an important tactic for us here in Iowa where Iowans expect their candidates to talk to them directly,” she says.

McCoy thinks there’s more urgency to the visit than the Obama campaign wants to acknowledge.

“It’s telling that Obama is rushing to Iowa just as he posts his worst poll numbers of the cycle,” McCoy says, referring to a Rasmussen Poll showing Romney leading in the state. “Obama’s trip is a desperate attempt to rescue his campaign in a state where the polls shouldn’t be close … the state that launched him to the White House.”

Regardless of those polls, Hagle says Iowans may be seeing less of the candidates in the coming months.

“Iowa is not necessarily the only place where they have to put in that time,” he says. “There are a lot of other swing states where they need to spend time.”

To some extent, the candidates are looking at where their opponent is campaigning “and shadowing each other or anticipating where their visit can become important,” he says.

As a practical matter, the president has to spend time in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia – states that are going to be on Romney’s bus tour later this month as he heads to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Given the demand on the Obama’s time – both presidential and political, Hagle says the three-day swing through Iowa “may be not the last hurrah,” but perhaps the late in the campaign.

Both candidates will be looking at their internal polls “to see where they are weak and where they have a shot and where they need to make those last-minute pushes in October,” Hagle says.

Seidler isn’t privy to the president’s travel plans, but concedes his visits may not be as frequent in the coming months.

“But if not the president, then the first lady or Vice President Biden are certainly strong surrogates,” she says. She expects “more travel from more surrogates” such as former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the current USDA secretary.

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