Iowans, in 2008, first launched Barack Obama on his long-shot bid for the White House.
And on Tuesday, Hawkeye State residents helped ensure that the Democrat remained there.
Despite being weighed down by an economy that continues to only lumber ahead, Obama outpolled Republican challenger Mitt Romney by more than 5 percentage points in Iowa, taking about 52 percent of the vote. The state's six electoral votes added to the winning total that helped the nation's 44th president and his party keep their claim on the Oval Office.
“I think this was a recognition that Barack Obama inherited a very challenging economy and made steady, even-handed progress on getting Iowans back to work,'' Mike Gronstal, a state legislator from Council Bluffs and one of Iowa's leading Democrats, said Tuesday night. “We're moving in the right direction. It's not time to change horses.''
Iowa showed that not only does it continue to be a key swing state in presidential elections, but it's also becoming a bit of a political bellwether.
Iowa has now backed the winning presidential candidate in three straight elections: Republican George W. Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and 2012. It joins no more than a half-dozen other states in holding that distinction.
Obama, however, wasn't able to duplicate his 2008 feat of claiming the electoral vote in the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District. While Nebraska is one of two states that apportion some electoral votes by congressional district, all five of the state's votes were delivered to Romney.
Iowa's six electoral votes — pared from seven because of population-driven redistricting — hardly make the state a prize on the scale of an Ohio or Florida. But both Obama and Romney clearly saw it as potentially critical to victory. It was one of as few as eight states truly in play this year.
For Obama, Iowa represented the western vanguard of what his campaign dubbed its Midwestern firewall, three states that could ensure his re-election no matter what happened in the other battlegrounds.
If Obama were to prevail in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, there was virtually no way he could fall short of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
Each presidential ticket logged nearly two dozen visits to Iowa during the campaign. Obama at one point visited the state three days in a row. He also made Iowa his final campaign stop Monday night.
A month out from the election, the campaigns and their allies had already spent more than $40 million in Iowa, much of it funding a steady stream of television advertisements lambasting the opposition.
In the end, Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin did line up behind Obama, as apparently did most of the campaign's most contested states.
Almost five years have passed since Obama surprised then-Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in January 2008 to win the first-in-the-
nation Iowa caucuses. His ability to win over the state's largely white and rural electorate offered proof the nation might be ready for its first African-American president.
Obama went on to win Iowa during his historic electoral landslide over Republican John McCain, taking 54 percent of the state's vote.
For Obama, the hope and change messages of 2008 gave way to the reality of presiding over recovery from the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. The last two years of his term were marked by sharp divisions with a GOP-run House, creating gridlock.
In Iowa and elsewhere, Romney sought to seize on the failure of Obama's record to match his 2008 rhetoric. Romney consistently hammered the president and his policies, blaming them for the nation's failure to rebound more sharply from the economic slump.
Obama countered that Romney represented a return to the failed policies of the Bush administration, which Obama blamed for creating the economic mess in the first place.
The economy was indeed the issue cited as most important in exit polling by the Associated Press, and it appeared to cut both ways. Hannah Risinger, a 19-year-old from Des Moines, cited the economy when she cast the first presidential vote of her life for Romney. She said her brother graduated from college with a degree in chemical engineering three years ago but is working as a waiter.
“That's upsetting to me,'' she said.
But 46-year-old Jay Doehrmann of Williamsburg in eastern Iowa voted for Obama, saying the president could hardly be blamed for the economic depths the nation has been forced to climb out of.
“He's trying to get people back to work,'' he said. “It's a long process, and it can't happen overnight.''
An Iowa economy boosted by strong income in the agricultural sector appeared to play in Obama's favor. Polls showed Iowans were generally more bullish on the economy than Americans as a whole.
And a final-week Des Moines Register poll gave Obama an edge on the question of which candidate would do the best job on the economy, Romney's key campaign appeal.
Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University, said Romney's basic message in Iowa was that the economy was terrible and that he wasn't Obama. That wasn't enough, he said.
With a stronger Republican candidate or better message, “Obama would have been toast,'' Goldford said.
At the same time, Goldford said, Romney allowed Obama to define him “as the rich guy who doesn't understand the average person.'' The exit poll results showed Obama lost by 9 percentage points among men in Iowa, but he won among women by a whopping 19 points, Goldford said.
Obama's win in Iowa also exemplified the organizational clout that was key to his victory across the battlegrounds. Incomplete vote counts showed Romney actually led Obama by some 38,000 votes among ballots cast on Election Day. But Obama's superior ground game allowed him to win by 114,000 among early ballots.
In the end, it likely helped Obama that Iowans were already quite familiar with him. Polls showed that most Iowans believed that Obama cared about them, and they knew and trusted him more than they did Romney.
“I think Iowans have a certain sentimental attachment to Barack Obama,'' Gronstal said. “We kind of launched him. We enjoy that. We feel we have a special relationship with Barack Obama.''
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