Salena Zito

He admitted his passion to vote for Mitt Romney didn’t exist until Romney picked Paul Ryan as a running mate: “Right then and there, he had my vote. Ryan is very bright, very capable, and understands the serious problems facing the finances of our country.”

The small businessman, who employs more than 70 in the town of Carroll, found Obama's “you didn’t build that” comment to be “galling, but not surprising. It is reflective of the concern I had about him on the front-end,” referring to the value that Obama puts on government over individuals.

Obama still could win this state’s five electoral votes by galvanizing young people, by aggressively promoting the farm bill now before Congress, and by playing “Mediscare” with seniors, Iowa State’s Schmidt said. “But social issues could mobilize Republicans and pull over enough … independents to give Romney the edge.”

Along the Lincoln Highway between Council Bluffs and Davenport, most cornfields are leveled due to drought-provoked early harvests; marching bands practice on high school football fields alongside players scrimmaging without pads for the big Friday-night game.

And Mike Johnson gives a big “How ya doing?” to another customer who pulls his pickup truck up to the Dairy Mart’s drive-thru window. “You don't want to come in here today, Bill, they’re talking politics,” Johnson tells the regular.

“Well, as long as no one is voting Obama, I’m fine,” Bill replies.

Johnson sighs deeply, rolls his eyes and reaches for a cone to top off with homemade, freshly whipped cherry ice cream.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.