by Stephen Collinson
CHICAGO, Aug 13, 2012 (AFP) – Barack Obama headed back Monday to a key swing state that nurtured his White House dream, as vice-presidential pick Paul Ryan tried to spoil the US president’s political homecoming.
Obama set off from his hometown of Chicago to embark on a three-day bus tour of the midwestern state of Iowa, the ground where he built his 2008 campaign juggernaut and will now use to showcase his economic credentials.
Obama plan is to draw a sharp contrast between his position on the economy and taxes and that of his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, whose campaign has gained energy since he named Ryan as his running mate on Saturday.
According to excerpts of Obama’s remarks released in advance of his arrival by his campaign, the Democratic incumbent planned to attack Ryan directly for, in his words, blocking aid to drought-stricken Iowa farmers.
“Right now folks here in Iowa and across the heartland are suffering from one of the worst droughts in 50 years,” Obama was to say.
“The best way to help these states is for leaders in Congress to pass a farm bill that not only helps farmers and ranchers respond to natural disasters, but also makes necessary reforms and gives them some long-term certainty,
“Now, I’m told Governor Romney’s new running mate might be around Iowa these next few days. And he’s one of those leaders of Congress standing in the way.”
Ryan, a budget hawk congressman from Wisconsin, has stolen much of the campaign limelight, appearing before large pumped-up crowds on the trail with Romney, and was on his way to Iowa to dog Obama’s steps.
He was to appear at the Iowa State Fair, a right of passage for candidates.
The president was to begin his tour aboard his sleek armored bus in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Nebraska border, and wend his way east, holding formal campaign events and stopping at cafes and diners along the way.
Iowa — cloaked in golden corn in summer, iced-over in winter — has a special place in Obama’s heart and political biography.
It was here that he built a grass roots movement that upset Hillary Clinton’s political machine on the way to the Democratic nomination in 2008.
But four years on, his heady promises of hope and change have been tarnished by the painful choices of governing in a bitterly divided political environment and the worst financial crisis in 70 years.
Recent polls in Iowa show the race essentially tied, though the volume of polling has been fairly sparse so it is tough to judge who is in the lead.
Iowa is considered a swing state even though it has gone Republican only once since Ronald Reagan’s reelection race in 1984.
Obama aides dismissed the idea that Ryan’s tour could distract from Obama’s arrival, or would influence his program.
“This was in the works already, it was what we planned to do, we are focusing on making the choice clear for Americans,” said a campaign official.
After a weekend spent introducing Ryan to the Republican faithful at joint rallies and media interviews, Romney left Ryan to hound Obama and split to take his own campaign to another key swing state, Florida.
Romney and Ryan have pledged to revive the American economy through cuts to taxes and spending, while Obama accuses them of plotting to dismantle cherished entitlements like public health insurance and pensions for seniors.
“I’ve got good news for you. And that is that this nation is going to come roaring back,” Romney said on Sunday at a stock car racing training center in North Carolina, with Ryan looking on.
Romney attacked Obama as making the United States “more and more like Europe,” with its “chronic high unemployment, low wage growth and fiscal calamity right at the door.”
Democrats mounted a furious counter-attack, casting Romney’s choice of Ryan as running mate as proof Republicans want to demolish social programs like Medicare, the public health insurance plan for the elderly.
“He’s the guy who’s the architect of a plan to end Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher program and shift thousands of dollars of costs onto senior citizens,” said David Axelrod, a senior Obama campaign adviser.
Obama called the 42-year-old congressman the “ideological leader” of the Republican Party, attempting to tie Romney’s campaign to Ryan’s plan to slash the US budget.
Ryan rejected the criticism, arguing his reforms were needed to save Medicare from bankruptcy rather than to destroy it.
Romney was campaigning in Florida on Monday, praising US victories in the Olympics and the space race, but in front of crowds that appeared smaller and more subdued than those he drew with his new running mate.
A Fox News national poll out Thursday put Obama at 49 percent to Romney’s 40 percent, while a CNN poll had Obama at 52 percent, seven points up on the former Massachusetts governor.
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