Guest post by Jake and Alexi.
Unlike California, New York, Texas, or Illinois, Iowa is a political rarity in the sense that it has an equal number of registered Democrats and Republicans, as well as many independent voters. Only the edges of the state consistently trend towards one party or another, with the east going Democrat and the west going Republican, visible here on Nate Silver’s blog. Like Ohio, Iowa’s six electoral votes have tended to swing with the winner since the 1964 general election, save 1988, when the state went for Michael Dukakis by a large margin, and then again in the controversial presidential election of 2000, when voters showed a slight preference for Vice President Al Gore. Both candidates have shown determination to win this perennial swing state, with Romney recently saying: “I’m counting on Iowa! Iowa may be the place that decides who the next President is.” However, determination won’t win it for them on their own. Both candidates have molded their campaigns to cater to Iowa voters in order to try and secure a necessary victory.
Iowa is less racially diverse than the country as a whole but nonetheless extremely competitive, probably due to its caucus system. Caucuses force candidates to build strong grassroots networks during the primary season, as both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney did in 2008. Although Romney failed to win the nomination in 2008, his old volunteers proved useful once more in 2012. Strong grassroots networks prove useful post-primary season for winning over independent voters. Due to the equal number of registered Democrats and Republicans, mentioned above, each candidate’s ground forces are of approximately equal strength. While Mitt Romney’s grassroots network was arguably better prepared for the general election season following their activity leading up to the Republican primaries, the Obama campaign has countered by busing in volunteers from other states (notably Illinois). The Obama campaign’s decision to bus in volunteers signals either of two possible situations in Iowa; first, that the President’s re-election team is so confident that this massive re-distribution of resources will guarantee a win in this state, or that the political situation in Iowa is far more precarious than Obama’s previous ten percent margin of victory would let on.
Barack Obama may have one major advantage over Mitt Romney in Iowa; the state’s unemployment rate is significantly lower than the national average. As a result, the Republican challenger’s campaign team has pivoted to other issues. Iowa Public Television is running a series this election cycle on the issues important to the lives of everyday Iowans. This series is, of course, highly indicative of what Romney has, and will, choose to focus on in Iowa over the past few months and these last few days. Romney’s Iowa campaign has focused on the Obama administration’s failure to reduce the budget deficit, Romney’s record as governor, and Romney’s plans to balance the budget and “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama has maintained a lead, however slight, over Mitt Romney in the polls in Iowa and currently leads by more than two percentage points. Obama’s lead may be due to the fact that, despite Mitt Romney’s claims to the contrary, Iowans are better off than they were four years ago. As a result, Obama for America’s Iowa ads focus on the President’s accomplishments. Although, the President’s re-election campaign has, of course, attacked Romney with a number of scathing ads, including “Swiss Bank Account” and “Steel”.
Obama for America’s ad spending in Iowa exceeds Romney for President’s by nearly eight million dollars, but add in all outside money, from groups such as Crossroads GPS, Restore Our Future, Priorities Action USA, and Americans for Prosperity, and Republican money in Iowa quickly exceeds that of the Democrats. That money is focused on the hotly contested areas where Republicans feel they can defeat Obama this year: in rural areas, a few centrally located cities, and especially the suburbs.
So what will ultimately tip the scale for either Obama or Romney? Well, like in Ohio and Virginia, the vote in Iowa may very well be determined by independents in quickly growing, and changing, suburban areas.