Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Politics

After putting Barack Obama in White House in 2008, Iowa Democrats re-examine choice

ATLANTIC, Iowa — Terry Mathisen's face tightened at the name. "Barack Obama," he said, shaking his head on his way out of a coffee shop in this outpost 80 miles west of Des Moines.

Newt Gingrich's campaign bus pulled out of town a few minutes earlier, and Mathisen, 61, could have easily blended in with the crowd of Republicans who showed up to see the candidate at a Coca-Cola bottling plant.

Mathisen, though, is a Democrat and supported Obama in 2008.

"I just wish I hadn't have done it," he lamented Saturday, explaining he thought the president overreached on health care and did not bring U.S. troops home from Iraq soon enough.

"I'm not impressed with him," he added, "but I'm not that dissatisfied."

The conflicted feelings are evident across Iowa, which had a crucial role in putting Obama in the White House with his come-from-behind victory here four years ago.

The importance of this first-in-the-nation nominating contest is often overstated, but on that night, in a state that is overwhelmingly white, a record turnout helped propel a black man to the presidency.

"They said this day would never come," Obama proclaimed in Des Moines.

But on the eve of a new caucus, when voters will help determine the Republican to face Obama, Iowa Democrats are reassessing their legacy. They wonder if Obama was experienced enough and had the tenacity to confront America's woes, or whether they should have attempted to mint the first female president.

"Hillary would have been more prepared for all the problems with her experience," said Tom Baccam, 45, of Des Moines, referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"I think he's a smart man, but I don't think he's gained a whole lot," said Dick Woodward, 62, in Atlantic.

Woodward, a farmer and mail carrier, caucused for Obama because of his uplifting message of change. Despite his reservations about him now, Woodward said he will vote for Obama again, if only because he's uninspired by the Republican candidates.

• • •

The president seems acutely aware of the mixed feelings here and is fighting to change them. While the focus has been on the Republican candidates traversing the state, each trying to be the loudest Obama critic, an undercover army is growing for the general election in November.

Obama has eight offices here — more than any of the Republicans — and volunteers have made more than 350,000 calls. Tuesday night, volunteers will try to turn out people for their own caucuses, which will serve as a practice run for November. Obama will deliver a live message via video.

"No matter what happens on Jan. 3 … one thing is for sure: On Jan. 4, we will have the strongest campaign infrastructure and grass roots organization in place of any candidate going forward," said John Kraus, Obama's Iowa campaign spokesman.

The effort in a state of just over 3 million people — replicated in bigger swing states like Florida, North Carolina and Ohio — reveals Obama's strategy to spread his chances across the electoral map. Iowa has only six electoral votes, but Obama will likely need them to keep his job.

He defeated John McCain in Iowa by nine points in 2008; this time no one expects to win the state that easily.

So it was little coincidence that Obama made a swing through Iowa in mid August as part of a White House bus tour to rally support for his economic ideas and rail against a deadlocked Congress.

"I don't care whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent, all of us are patriots, and everybody here cares about our country and puts it first. If we can have that kind of politics, then nothing can stop us," Obama said in Decorah, standing before a picturesque red barn.

The following morning he ate eggs and toast at a restaurant in Guttenberg, nestled along the Mississippi River, while speaking with small business owners.

"He walked into a mess," Sue Rausch, owner of Rausch's Cafe, said in an interview last week. "He's trying his hardest to resolve some of the issues, but four years isn't long enough."

• • •

Four years ago, Obama was locked in a bitter struggle for the Democratic nomination with John Edwards and Clinton. Iowa seemed poised to coalesce behind Clinton, who had the ingredients for a win: name recognition, money and the backing of Iowa's powerful labor unions.

But Obama outworked her. Youthful volunteers poured into the state to galvanize an expertly organized field operation. He was a fresh presence, and his optimistic message generated excitement and momentum. On caucus night, the country was shocked by his decisive victory.

Clinton's inevitability was broken.

"It was really nice to see we jump-started the president," said Devin Jacobsen, a University of Iowa senior who was 18 at the time and participating in his first caucus. "People have been saying he hasn't followed through, but he has for a majority of it."

Enthusiasm for Obama among Jacobsen's peers has fallen off nationally, however. Many college graduates have struggled to find jobs and face significant college loans. They have grown frustrated with the lack of action in Washington due to the partisanship Obama pledged to transcend.

Obama will need to recapture that support as part of his overall coalition.

"He's gone a little bit softer than I'd like him to," said Cassie Creasy, 23, of Coralville, who was a student leader for Clinton. Creasy contends Obama gave too much ground to Republicans on health care. "But he needs to compromise, or I think a lot less would have gotten done.

"I've had a lot of people say to me, 'I wish it would have been Hillary. Things would have been different.' But by the same token, if she were elected, people would have been saying the same things about Obama."

Polls in Iowa confirm Obama's challenge, with him running about even with Mitt Romney and Gingrich, who had been a leading contender until slipping in recent days. An NBC News/Marist survey released Friday showed voters are also evenly split on whether they approve of the job that Obama is doing.

"There's no question about it, it's going to be an extremely tough election," said Roxanne Conlin, a lawyer in Des Moines who co-chaired Edwards' campaign in 2008.

She has felt the Obama sting herself, attributing her unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate bid to his sliding popularity.

"It was a terrible Democratic year. The regret of Barack Obama was principally responsible for that."

Nonetheless, she thinks that Obama's base will rally around him and that independents, who flocked to the GOP in 2010, will understand the challenges Obama has faced since voters here propelled him into office.

"What happened here was really monumental," Conlin said. "I'm really proud of Iowans for doing that."

Comments
Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Nationally, the word "evangelical" has become in recent years nearly synonymous with "conservative Republican" and Alabama is one of the most evangelical states in the country. But in Alabama, there is a difference: black Christians.While in many par...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Wednesday to fill fellow Democrat Al Franken’s Senate seat until a special election in November, setting up his longtime and trusted adviser for a potentially bruising 2018...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Still-uncounted ballots are unlikely to change the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in Alabama enough to spur an automatic recount, the state’s election chief said Wednesday as Democratic victor Doug Jones urged Republican Roy Moore...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

The Democrats’ seismic victory Tuesday in the unlikely political battleground of Alabama brought jubilation — and a sudden a rush of confidence — to a party that has been struggling to gain its footing since Donald Trump won the presidency 13 months ...
Published: 12/13/17
Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans on Tuesday rushed toward a deal on a massive tax package that would reduce the top tax rate for wealthy Americans to 37 percent and slash the corporate rate to a level slightly higher than what businesses and co...
Published: 12/12/17
Trump signs $700 billion military budget into law

Trump signs $700 billion military budget into law

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping defense policy bill that authorizes a $700 billion budget for the military, including additional spending on missile defense programs to counter North Korea’s growing nuclear w...
Published: 12/12/17
Donald Trump Jr. demands inquiry of House Intelligence Committee leak

Donald Trump Jr. demands inquiry of House Intelligence Committee leak

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, has asked the House Intelligence Committee to open an investigation into leaked information related to his closed interview with the committee last week."To maintain the credibility of the in...
Published: 12/12/17
Original Watergate lock that burglars picked open is going to auction

Original Watergate lock that burglars picked open is going to auction

WASHINGTON -— It’s the lock that launched a two-year investigation and took down a president. And now more than four decades later — and for a starting bid of $50,000 — it can be a really wonky conversation piece.Nate D. Sanders Auctions will auction...
Published: 12/12/17
Democrats say Trump’s tweets about Gillibrand sexist, unsavory

Democrats say Trump’s tweets about Gillibrand sexist, unsavory

WASHINGTON — Plowing into the sexual harassment debate in a big way, President Donald Trump laced into Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday, tweeting that the New York Democrat would come to his office "begging" for campaign contributions and "do anyth...
Published: 12/12/17
Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — National political leaders, a Hollywood actress and a retired basketball star made last-ditch efforts to woo voters in the Alabama Senate race Monday, as the candidates gave their final arguments in a pivotal special election that ...
Published: 12/12/17