Obama's Support Faltering In Iowa

Salena Zito
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Posted: Jan 01, 2012 12:01 AM
NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa- Bobby Burns has had a dramatic change of heart.

Burns, 23, was one of those young people swept up in Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Three years and one college degree later, he cannot imagine a scenario in which he would consider voting for the president's re-election.

"I guess you could say I have seen the light," he said.

On Tuesday he will caucus in a precinct right down the road from where he grew up. His vote will go for Mitt Romney.

Davenport is 60 miles east of here along Interstate 80, past two closed service-station interchanges and a relatively new but shuttered chain hotel. In the center of the city, overlooking the Mississippi River, is the majestic Blackhawk Hotel.

The century-old hotel is where presidents -- or guys who want to be president -- come to speak. Richard Nixon campaigned there; Obama stayed there just a few weeks ago.

Last week, Romney packed an enthusiastic crowd into the Blackhawk's Gold Room. Garrison Gardner, the hotel's on-duty manager, watched the former Massachusetts governor make his pitch for caucus voters.

Gardner, who leans Democrat, said he is ripe to be persuaded to vote for Romney. "Anything is better than what he have going on now at the White House," the former Obama supporter said.

While everyone focuses on the Republicans' shifting nomination process, they overlook Obama's Iowa problem.

The Hawkeye State began Obama's string of caucus victories that gave him a majority of the Democrats' "super-delegates" over Hillary Clinton in 2008, followed by a comfortable victory over Republican John McCain in the fall. It is not electrified by his presidential record, however.

Iowa does not share the country's high unemployment rate -- but it does share the Midwest's disapproval of the president's performance. A Public Policy poll late last summer showed just 45 percent of voters approved of Obama while 48 percent disapproved; independents split against him, 43 to 47; only 79 percent of Democrats thought he was doing a good job, while 87 percent of Republicans disagreed.

On Earth Day, just a handful of months after being sworn into office, Obama visited Newton, Iowa, located farther south along I-80. Standing at the TCI Composites wind-turbine plant, he praised the state's efforts in "green" alternative energy.

"The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy. America can be that nation," he proclaimed.

He stressed the significance of wind energy as part of the green economy and he said TCI's new plant was critically important to Newton, which was devastated by the closure of Maytag's plant and corporate headquarters.

Late last week, TCI Composites, recipient of city and state tax credits and federal stimulus funds, laid off almost 200 workers. The company said it hoped to rehire them next spring.

Allen Anthony, 51, one of the furloughed workers, is not optimistic. "I really have no idea if they really will hire me or any of the other guys back," he said.

Leaning against a chain-link fence outside of the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Anthony looked exhausted. "Twenty-three years ago I made more than I did today," he said. "My future, my town's future, is all heading in the wrong direction."

His family spent a combined 85 years working at the Maytag plant. "Three generations in Newton," he said. "Now it is Maytag made in Mexico."

He will not support Obama again, he added.

Economic anxiety will play a larger-than-normal role in this year's presidential election. Less than a year out, the president lacks a message (although he has shopped a few of them, such as "We can't wait") or a policy that he can run on.

It's not going to be health care -- and definitely not bailouts. If the economy starts to recover, perhaps he can point to that.

All that he has right now, despite Washington media reports predicting his resurrection in the polls, is a political machine that can turn out just enough voters for him to win electorally.

Yet with guys like Allen Anthony, Barack Obama still lacks a persuasive reason for them to turn out and vote for him.