Friday, June 22, 2018
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
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18
Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another facility intended for detaining undocumented children is reportedly in the works for Houston as the number of children separated from their parents at the border continues to swell.Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the...
Published: 06/19/18
Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

ST. PETERSBURG — They appear to rise out of nowhere — two enormous, reclaimed-water tanks with an artist’s white clouds scudding across a blue background.A closer view reveals silhouettes of a lone coyote howling at the sky, mangrove islands, oak, cy...
Published: 06/19/18