Obama faces a less friendly Iowa

July 4, 2011

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

Lisa Howard switched her voter registration from Republican to Democratic in 2008 so she could caucus for Barack Obama, so impressed was she by the fresh-faced candidate’s calls for hope and change.

While the 50-year-old supports Obama’s efforts to fix the economy — the top issue here and everywhere else — she doesn’t know if she’ll be supporting him again in the 2012 presidential contest. The real estate agent plans to survey the GOP field, though to be honest she has been too busy staying afloat to get involved.

“I’m just trying to survive this economy,” the Des Moines resident said as she strolled through the city’s trendy East Village neighborhood.

Three years ago, Obama’s victory in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses put a relatively unknown senator from Illinois on the political map. The expectation that former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton would clinch the Democratic nomination crumbled on Jan. 3, 2008, when Obama captured a surprise first-place finish in the Iowa caucuses on a swell of voters like Howard. Such voters will be key to whether Obama can again carry Iowa and its six electoral votes in the 2012 general election.

The situation on the ground has changed dramatically since those heady days. Unemployment in Iowa hovers at 6%, a number that would draw cheers in California and many other states, but is high for the Hawkeye State.

“There are over 100,000 people unemployed,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, and the unemployment rate is more than double than when the Republican governor left office after his first tenure in 1999.

In predicting a rougher time next year for Obama, Branstad pointed to his own race in 2010. He beat a Democratic incumbent, the first time since 1962 that a sitting governor had failed to win reelection.

Political loyalties are clearly changing among Iowans, quintessential swing voters who supported Democrat Al Gorein 2000, Republican George W. Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008.

“The political ground at the president’s feet has shifted dramatically since he carried Iowa in the 2008 election,” said Matt Strawn, chairman of the state GOP. “Here in the state that launched Barack Obama on the path to the White Housein 2008, Iowans have dramatically soured on the president. Iowans are voting with their feet.”

One in 10 Iowa Democrats has left the party, more than 65,000 during Obama’s tenure, he said. The state GOP has seen 27 months of gains in registration, meaning that Iowa Democrats’ registration edge has shrunk by two-thirds since Obama took office and is approaching parity.

To be sure, some of Obama’s most ardent supporters remain so.

Emily Shields just held a party at her Des Moines home for Obama supporters. She sees some dissatisfaction among her friends with some of Obama’s moves as president, such as supporting the extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. But she believes they will come around, especially once the Republican nominee becomes clear.

To read more, visit: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-obama-iowa-20110704,0,5170516.story

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