Iowa Remains Focal Point as Swing State

By J.T. Rushing, Reporter

FILE-In this Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, file photo, presidential and vice presidential candidate names are seen on a ballot at the Polk County Election Office, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa. Eventually, the economic recovery will gain strength, whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is in the White House. That's what many economic outlooks project. And the president and the party, occupying the Oval Office will reap the benefits. But first, Obama or Romney, together with Congress, will have to pull back from the fiscal abyss facing the nation at year's end. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

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By Belinda Yeung

WASHINGTON — Judging from the polls and the candidates’ itineraries, little has changed this year in Iowa’s status as one of the most critical swing states of the 2012 election.

However, some political pundits say there is an increasing chance that Iowa could become the Florida of 2000 or the Ohio of 2004 — in other words, the biggest swing state of them all.

President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have crisscrossed Iowa several times this summer and fall alone, including multiple stops in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

The repeated visits are perhaps one reason why the state is so tied up between the two: A polling average compiled by the website Real Clear Politics puts Obama ahead by just 2 percentage points, 48 percent to 46 percent, or within the margin of error. On the other hand, a poll released on Wednesday by the University of Iowa put Romney ahead at 45.2 percent to 44.4 percent, also a statistical tie.

The state’s polling numbers closely reflect the national scene, where Obama is also in a dead heat with Romney by a razor-thin margin of 47.5 percent to 47.2 percent, according to a Real Clear Politics average.

Given those numbers, experienced observers say there is little doubt that Iowa is firmly in the swing state category. But could the state end up being a focal point of the entire election, like Florida and Ohio in past years?

“It’s definitely a possibility,” said Fred Boehmke, an associate professor of political science and a faculty adviser of the Hawkeye Poll released on Wednesday. “Clearly it’s going to be a close race nationally and Iowa is within a few points, so there’s a definite chance. The candidates are obviously paying a lot of attention to Iowa, as you can tell from their trips, just to make sure.”

Boehmke and others note there are critical electoral differences between Iowa and Florida or Ohio, however. For one, the state has only six electoral votes up for grabs, down from seven in 2008 because of congressional reapportionment. That compares with 29 for Florida and 18 for Ohio.

Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University in Washington, D.C., says the race would have to be even closer than it is for Iowa to become the tipping point of the election.

“But a lot of other states could claim the same thing — Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia. They could all say the same thing,” Gans said.

Some Iowans may not enjoy the attention that comes with being such a pivotal state. The state’s airwaves have been blanketed for months with TV ads, and the campaigns have invested heavily in Internet advertising and phone campaigns as well. If the state were to become the focal point of the 2012 election, involving a statewide recount, it could subject residents to years of jokes on late-night TV like Florida saw after the 2000 election.

Steve Owen, an assistant professor of political science at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, said whether Iowans view such a scenario as a benefit or a curse depends on how they view the effectiveness of the Electoral College system.

“If you’re in favor of trying to move closer to the French system, which is a crude, cross-country popular vote, then to some degree it’s a bad thing because with less than 1 percent of the population, Iowa gets a disproportionate amount of attention,” Owen said.

“If you view the Electoral College as a valuable link to federalism and a way of keeping contact with national politicians in smaller states like Iowa, then it’s a good thing,” Owen said. “I’d be a little closer to the second.”

Boehmke said Iowans are used to the attention.

“Iowa is used to being the focal point of elections, based on the caucuses every four years, so it’s not unusual for us to have national media attention focused on what’s happening here,” he said. “As far as the voting systems, if you are the state that everyone’s paying attention to, it’s really important that you’ve got your act together and you get the votes counted right.

“At some point the attention gets to be too much. But it’s perhaps better than the alternative of living in a state that nobody cares about.”

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