DES MOINES — His hair shows more gray, his voice more strain than when Iowans got to know Barack Obama during his first White House run.
But the president's fans were no less fired-up when he took the stage here Monday night, choosing to close out his campaign by returning to where it all began.
This was where Obama launched his bid for the 2008 Iowa caucuses, a victory that showed skeptics the U.S. senator from Illinois could win over a largely white and rural state.
Republican Mitt Romney, Obama's opponent, had planned to close his campaign Monday in New Hampshire but added stops today in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
"From the granite of New Hampshire to the Rockies of Colorado, from the coast lines of Florida to Virginia's rolling hills, from the valleys of Ohio to these Iowa fields, we will keep America moving forward," Obama told a crowd of 20,000 in Des Moines' historic East Village neighborhood near the State Capitol.
He was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and Bruce Springsteen, whose song "We Take Care of Our Own" has become a campaign anthem.
Iowa has been awash in presidential campaign attention this cycle. Romney made two visits to the state this weekend — appearing in Dubuque and Des Moines.
Between them, Romney and Obama have made dozens of appearances around Iowa this year, battling fiercely for the state's six electoral votes.
Even early lines into the Obama rally stretched down the street, around two corners and back up another street.
Vendors worked the line, hawking Obama buttons, stickers and T-shirts, while anti-war protestors drew attention to Obama's use of drone attacks.
Obama campaign staffers worked the lines, asking if people had already voted (Most said yes.) and seeking volunteers to help out on Election Day.
Des Moines married couple Patricia Harris and Will Smith seemed unfazed by the temperatures in the mid-40s or the wait.
Harris gave the president good marks for his first term. She acknowledged the slow economic recovery but pointed to global forces at work, including competition from other countries.
"With all the obstruction and name calling and pettiness, I think he did pretty well," she said. "He never lost his cool."
She predicted an Iowa victory for Obama today.
"He's kinda popular," she said gesturing at the line snaking down the street.
For the president, ending his campaign in Des Moines was a show of gratitude to those who helped him become the nation's first African-American president. But it also was about working on an important part of his Midwestern strategy — seeking as many paths as possible to the 270 electoral votes he needs.
All the attention may seem strange given the state's small share of those votes, but Iowa is one of the swingiest swing states in the country. It switched from Al Gore-blue in 2000 to George Bush-red in 2004. Obama moved the state back into the Democratic column in 2008.
The state's Republican governor, Terry Branstad, has predicted Iowans disappointed with Obama's performance in office will swing the pendulum once again back to the GOP.
A new Iowa poll released by the Des Moines Register this weekend showed Obama with a 5-percentage-point lead, although Republicans point to the fact that the same poll overstated Obama's lead in 2008.
Dennis Goldford, political scientist at Drake University, said the Register poll shows the state leaning Obama but still had the president under 50 percent.
"I'd rather have Obama's numbers than Romney's numbers, but ... it's not a done-deal," he said.
Goldford compared it to the ninth inning of a 2-1 baseball game. "A lot could happen in the bottom of the ninth," he said.
He said the campaigns' attention shows the race really is coming down to the wire.
"The fact that they're still competing so much over Iowa and New Hampshire ... shows you how close both campaigns think the electoral vote results will be," he said.
One sleeper issue could be gay marriage, he said.
Romney could benefit if that issue boosts turnout among the state's religious conservatives, many of whom are expected to vote on judicial retention and Iowa Senate races.
Still, Goldford wouldn't make any predictions.
"I wouldn't be shocked if either one won," he said.
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