Ryan, Obama to clash in Iowa

GOP vice presidential pick Paul Ryan will make his solo campaign debut in Iowa on Monday, competing with President Obama, who's beginning a three-day trip to the key battleground state.

Obama is bringing his wife, popular first lady Michelle Obama, along with him — a sign the campaign is concerned about holding on to Iowa's six electoral votes. 

But when Obama begins his tour in the western part of the state, just up I-80, Ryan will be in Des Moines, visiting the Iowa State Fair.

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The competing visits show how important the state is to both campaigns, but it has particular resonance for Obama — during his historic 2008 run, it was his victory at Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses that catapulted him into the upper tier of Democratic presidential contenders. 

Then-Sen. Obama (Ill.) defeated then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards by healthy margins in the 2008 Democratic primaries, and the president defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by nearly 10 percent that year in the general election.

In recent weeks Obama has seen his fortunes improve nationally, and now leads presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney by 4.5 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls. 

But the race is much tighter in the 12 swing states that will be critical in determining the outcome of the 2012 election, and Obama returns to Iowa to find a much more competitive contest than the one in 2008.

While there has been little recent public polling of the state, Iowa is a true toss-up at this point — four of the last five public polls dating back to late May show Obama and Romney in a statistical dead heat, with the latest, a Rasmussen survey released last Friday, showing Romney with a 46-44 advantage.

Iowa has gone to the Democratic candidate in every election since 1988, but this year it appears Romney has a strong chance of winning the Dem-leaning state.

And the campaign has dispatched Ryan to help.

The selection of the House Budget Committee chairman as Romney's running mate seemed to re-energize the GOP ticket this weekend. And the Romney campaign believes Ryan’s Midwestern roots and popularity among blue-collar voters will resonate in Iowa.

“We have a number of states that are competitive where we believe he helps us,” Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden told reporters on Sunday. “Obviously, his home state of Wisconsin and some of these other Great Lake states. But Iowa in particular, that is a state where I think his life story is important for others, something that I think helps him connect with a lot of those voters there.”

Still, the president has some built-in advantages in Iowa. The state has the seventh-lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 5.2 percent, well below the national average of 8.3, and down from 6 percent one year ago.

In addition, while the Romney campaign has hammered the president for his green energy policies, Obama’s support for wind power could be a significant asset for the president in Iowa, as well as a major liability for Romney.

Iowa’s economy has been buoyed by wind energy during a drought that has crippled the state’s agricultural industry. Farmers have increasingly relied on the steady profits provided by wind turbines to make up for the state’s devastated corn harvest. Iowa now ranks behind only Texas in installed wind generation capacity.

The wind energy production tax credit, slated to lapse at the end of the year, has contributed to the state’s wind energy success, and Obama is pushing Congress to extend the federal tax credit. Romney has said he would allow the subsidy to lapse as scheduled, a pledge that has drawn the ire of some conservatives, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R).

In an interview with Radio Iowa earlier this month, Branstad called the Romney campaign “a bunch of East Coast people that need to get out here in the real world to find out what’s really going on.”

“[The subsidy] needs to be continued,” Branstad said. “Not forever, but it does need to be continued for a while, and the result is it’s been a very good thing for Iowa in terms of 20 percent of our energy is now generated by wind. We have a lot of farmers that receive rent from having wind turbines on their property, and we have a lot of jobs associated with it.”

Obama pounced on the issue in Colorado last week — another swing state with an economy that has increasingly relied on a growing wind energy sector.

“At a moment when homegrown energy is creating new jobs in states like Colorado and Iowa, my opponent wants to end tax credits for wind energy producers. Think about what that would mean for a community like Pueblo. The wind industry supports about 5,000 jobs across this state,” Obama said Thursday in Pueblo, Colo., where the Danish wind turbine giant Vestas has a major manufacturing plant.

“Without those tax credits, 37,000 American jobs, potentially including hundreds of jobs right here in Pueblo, would be at risk,” Obama continued. “Colorado, it is time to stop spending billions in taxpayer subsidies on an oil industry that's rarely been more profitable, and keep investing in a clean energy industry that's never been more promising.”

The Romney campaign struck back, saying Romney's free market policies would be a better stimulant for the industry than Obama’s policies of “massive subsidies and handouts.”

“Gov. Romney is a strong supporter of wind power and appreciates the industry’s extraordinary technological progress and its important contributions to America’s energy supply,” spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement. 

“Gov. Romney will instead set the industry on a course for success and growth by promoting policies that remove regulatory barriers, support free enterprise and market-based competition, and reward technological innovation,” she added.

Obama will begin his Iowa tour in Council Bluffs, just over the state line from Nebraska, on Monday, before campaigning in Boone, Oskaloosa, Marshalltown and Waterloo.

On Wednesday, he'll be joined by first lady Michelle Obama for campaign events in Dubuque and Davenport, two troves of Democratic voters along the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa.

Ryan is spending only one day in Iowa before heading to another critical swing state, Nevada.