President Obama greets patrons at Ross' Restaurant in Bettendorf, Iowa, on Tuesday. In 2008, the president's unexpected victory in the state helped propel his campaign.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Republican presidential hopefuls have descended on Iowa this summer. This week, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were there. And on Tuesday, even though she's not in the race, Sarah Palin was in Pella for a showing of a new documentary about her time as governor of Alaska.
With all of this going on, President Obama also paid a visit to the Hawkeye State on Tuesday to talk about jobs and manufacturing.
"It's not unusual to have presidential candidates here," said Joyce Eckstein-Swift, a counter customer at a diner where Obama also stopped. But "for the president — that's unusual."
In 2008, Iowa earned a special place in President Obama's heart. His big and unexpected victory in the state's caucuses was an early indicator of the strength of his campaign.
Part of Obama's secret to general election success in Iowa the last go-round was to win in a lot of places that George W. Bush carried in the two previous elections — places like the 1st Precinct of Altoona, Iowa, about 20 minutes east of Des Moines.
Cara Ohoricko owns a small, independent coffee shop located on a road right next to a towering grain elevator. Customers sit at mismatched tables and chairs, and on a big living room sofa. She's a registered independent who voted for the president in 2008 and still gives him her support.
"I think he's doing just fine," she says. "It's a big job, and I think he's still working on it."
And she says things do seem a bit better than they were in the final years of the Bush administration. Still, she leaves a little wiggle room when she looks ahead to 2012.
"I haven't decided who I'm voting for yet. The presidential election is a ways out, but I haven't been impressed with any of the Republican candidates that have come forward so far."
George Ward, 74, is a regular here. He's a Democrat, and when asked about the job the president is doing, says, "I expected things to be better than they are by now."
Ward voted for the president. "And to say that I am disappointed to some degree would be a true statement," he says. "However, I have not lost total confidence in him, and I'm hoping certain things can change, where he will live up to the hope that I had for his presidency."
But, he quickly adds, he still fully expects to vote for the president in 2012.
Then there are those like 81-year-old retired janitor Dale Collins, who stops to talk outside the Altoona post office. Collins is a Democrat who says he was glad to vote for candidate Obama. Today, he says he'd take back that vote.
"I don't think he's doing that great a job," he says. Collins wonders where the jobs are.
"Well, they say it's improving, but I can't see where it is. They're spending a lot of money, I know that."
This snapshot comes many months before next year's Iowa caucuses, and 16 months before the 2012 election. That's a very long way to go for the president and for the Republicans hoping to replace him.
But intense enthusiasm among his supporters was a defining characteristic of Obama's last run. It'll be different this time, as he works to hang on to a lot of those voters.