Salena Zito
GLIDDEN, Iowa – William J. Clinton and three other locals – Tim, Jeff and Jack, who declined to give their last names – sat at the Dairy Mart lunch counter, a Carroll County roadside staple on the Lincoln Highway for more than 60 years.

Besides sharing names, Clinton said, he has only one other thing in common with America’s 42nd president: “We are both from the South and both Democrats.”

He and his three lunch-counter buddies voiced displeasure with America’s direction today.

“Let me tell you something,” Clinton said. “It takes more than pretty words to run the country. I was fooled once by the president, I am not going to be fooled again.”

One by one, all four men admitted they are Democrats, voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and, in the words of Clinton, “cannot wait till election day to vote for Romney.”

“You guys have it all wrong,” said Mike Johnson from behind the counter, where he cooked up four orders of pork tenderloin sandwiches. With oil sizzling as he dropped breaded filets into a large cast-iron pan, he insisted that “Obama's a nice guy, I’m voting for him again” – to a collective groan from his customers.

Johnson’s father built this red-and-white-checked ice cream shack in the 1950s, complete with something incredibly innovative for its time – a drive-thru window to entice families using the coast-to-coast highway for great American road trips.

He admitted that he has “no solid reason” to support Obama again, adding: “I guess I just don't want him to fail.”

“Fail? Hell, he did that a long time ago,” said Tim, who owns a small business down the road.

Iowa is tight right now, according to Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt.

“Not leaning, but a complete toss-up,” Schmidt said.

In 2008, Iowa put Obama on the political map by kicking off his string of caucus and primary victories. It followed that with an easy Obama win over Republican John McCain in the fall.

Today, Democrats across the state feel the same disillusionment articulated by the lunch-counter quartet at Johnson’s Dairy Mart.

More than 500 miles of crisscrossing Iowa uncovered scores of Hawkeye Democrats who are unhappy with the country’s direction and with the White House under Obama.

Winery owner John Guinan said he “wanted to put a sign outside that said, ‘I can’t wait to vote,’ but I thought it was a bit over the top.”

Five years ago, Guinan and his wife, Rose, transformed an old Ford assembly plant-turned-auto dealership into the enchanting Santa Maria winery, with stone courtyards and a restaurant that offer the feel of Tuscany. Guinan said it is “the third largest winery in the state.”


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.