Obama’s visit to ISU signals battle is on for Iowa

David Bartholomew

President Barack Obama’s visit to Iowa State marks only the third time in university history that a sitting president has visited campus; the other two were Gerald Ford in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1995. 

However, a closer race than expected makes Obama’s visit all the more important.

With Iowa as one of the most divided political states in the country and its six electoral votes up for grabs, there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that both the Obama and Romney campaigns will be making a serious play for Iowa, especially with young voters.

“Iowa is among several swing states that both Obama and Romney plan to target in this election cycle,” said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics. “While Iowa has only six electoral votes, it is considered a swing state as President Obama’s nine-point margin of victory in Iowa in 2008 has dwindled to a dead-even race in 2012.”

This is indeed a different race than 2008’s presidential election was; Obama won Iowa by nine points, but the latest polls indicate that Iowa is as close as ever. 

This might be the reason the Obama campaign is targeting college campuses, Bystrom said.

“In a close election, as predicted for 2012, all voter demographics are important,” Bystrom said. “The youth vote was very important to President Obama’s victory in 2008. … [However,] current polls show that young voters, 18 to 29, are less interested in this election than in 2008.

 “Of those who say they plan to vote, about 50 percent favor President Obama and 37 percent support Mitt Romney.”

What’s more, with the expected support for Obama down from its peak of 66 percent in 2008, Iowa State and other universities can expect to be a target for both campaigns looking to sweep up undecided young voters.

“Obama has a special love for ISU because during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses he had some great rallies on our campus,” said Steffen Schmidt, university professor in political science. “And if students vote in large numbers, they can make a huge difference.”

Bystrom points out, young voter turnout may be lower this year because of the tone of the campaigns during this election. 

With so much negative mudslinging going back and forth on TV and other media venues, Bystrom expects students to be less excited about voting.

“Young voters are more interested in positive messages — such as Obama’s promises of hope and change in 2008 — and might be turned off by all the negativity from both campaigns this year,” Bystrom said.

With that being said, it’s apparent both Obama and Romney, assuming the latter makes a visit to Iowa State in the near future, will stress issues  near and dear to the heart of college students. As said Schmidt, Obama has a key opportunity to speak tomorrow while Romney is in Tampa, Fla., at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

“I think Obama will reiterate his theme that his policies prevented a collapse of the U.S. and that four more years will allow him to recharge jobs and growth,” Schmidt said. “He will also for sure talk about financial aid for students and how Romney will slash student loans.”

Students with tickets to the event may see Obama speak Tuesday on Central Campus. Ticket holders will be allowed on site at 10:30 a.m. The president is expected to speak at 1:10 p.m. Students should expect delays and detours going to and from classes.