NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa - Bobby Burns has had a dramatic change of heart.
Burns, 23, was one of those young people swept up in Barack Obama's 2008
presidential campaign. Three years and one college degree later, he cannot imagine a
scenario in which he would consider voting for the president's re-election.
"I guess you could say I have seen the light," he said.
On Tuesday he will caucus in a precinct right down the road from where he grew up.
His vote will go for Mitt Romney.
Davenport is 60 miles east of here along Interstate 80, past two closed
service-station interchanges and a relatively new but shuttered chain hotel. In the
center of the city, overlooking the Mississippi River, is the majestic Blackhawk
The century-old hotel is where presidents -- or guys who want to be president --
come to speak. Richard Nixon campaigned there; Obama stayed there just a few weeks
Last week, Romney packed an enthusiastic crowd into the Blackhawk's Gold Room.
Garrison Gardner, the hotel's on-duty manager, watched the former Massachusetts
governor make his pitch for caucus voters.
Gardner, who leans Democrat, said he is ripe to be persuaded to vote for Romney.
"Anything is better than what he have going on now at the White House," the former
Obama supporter said.
While everyone focuses on the Republicans' shifting nomination process, they
overlook Obama's Iowa problem.
The Hawkeye State began Obama's string of caucus victories that gave him a majority
of the Democrats' "super-delegates" over Hillary Clinton in 2008, followed by a
comfortable victory over Republican John McCain in the fall. It is not electrified
by his presidential record, however.
Iowa does not share the country's high unemployment rate -- but it does share the
Midwest's disapproval of the president's performance. A Public Policy poll late last
summer showed just 45 percent of voters approved of Obama while 48 percent
disapproved; independents split against him, 43 to 47; only 79 percent of Democrats
thought he was doing a good job, while 87 percent of Republicans disagreed.
On Earth Day, just a handful of months after being sworn into office, Obama visited
Newton, Iowa, located farther south along I-80. Standing at the TCI Composites
wind-turbine plant, he praised the state's efforts in "green" alternative energy.
"The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation
that leads the 21st century global economy. America can be that nation," he
He stressed the significance of wind energy as part of the green economy and he said
TCI's new plant was critically important to Newton, which was devastated by the
closure of Maytag's plant and corporate headquarters.
Late last week, TCI Composites, recipient of city and state tax credits and federal
stimulus funds, laid off almost 200 workers. The company said it hoped to rehire
them next spring.
Allen Anthony, 51, one of the furloughed workers, is not optimistic. "I really have
no idea if they really will hire me or any of the other guys back," he said.
Leaning against a chain-link fence outside of the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Anthony
looked exhausted. "Twenty-three years ago I made more than I did today," he said.
"My future, my town's future, is all heading in the wrong direction."
His family spent a combined 85 years working at the Maytag plant. "Three generations
in Newton," he said. "Now it is Maytag made in Mexico."
He will not support Obama again, he added.
Economic anxiety will play a larger-than-normal role in this year's presidential
election. Less than a year out, the president lacks a message (although he has
shopped a few of them, such as "We can't wait") or a policy that he can run on.
It's not going to be health care -- and definitely not bailouts. If the economy
starts to recover, perhaps he can point to that.
All that he has right now, despite Washington media reports predicting his
resurrection in the polls, is a political machine that can turn out just enough
voters for him to win electorally.
Yet with guys like Allen Anthony, Barack Obama still lacks a persuasive reason for
them to turn out and vote for him.