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In Battleground Iowa, Even Office Space Up For Grabs

President Obama arrives to speak at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday.
Carolyn Kaster
President Obama arrives to speak at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday.

In Iowa, President Obama's re-election campaign is already in gear, with staff and volunteers on the ground.

The Obama campaign hopes its head start over the campaign of Republican Mitt Romney — who until recently had been focused on fending off GOP opponents — will make the difference in November in this swing state.

The Obama campaign headquarters in Des Moines is a former Blockbuster Video store, where this week a couple of dozen 20-somethings tapped away at laptops, painted signs by hand and worked the phones.

But just a few months ago during the Republican caucuses, this was Romney headquarters.

Brad Anderson, the director of the Obama campaign in Iowa, has used the Twitter hashtag #sincemittsbeengone to do a little taunting and a lot of promotion.

Anderson and other Obama campaign workers are highlighting their volunteer events across the state and their eight bustling Iowa field offices — all the perks of having an Obama network that never really packed up since the last caucuses.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign doesn't have a new state headquarters yet, and Anderson says that's a big advantage for the president.

"This is where every percentage counts. Every phone call counts. Every knocked door counts. And because of the razor-thin margins right here, we really feel like our volunteer grass-roots organization is gonna be the difference in this election," said Anderson.

Romney's Caucus Bump

The Romney campaign declined to be interviewed for this story. But a person familiar with the campaign says Romney staffers will be on the ground in Des Moines by May 1.

Longtime Romney backer and Iowa state Rep. Renee Schulte says she's not worried about the Romney campaign in Iowa.

"As you know it was only a couple of weeks ago we finally got done with the primary. And so it's now, we're just starting to put that transition team back together here. So we're gonna ramp it up, and we're gonna make sure that we're here, and we're doing everything we need to do to get from here to Election Day and be victorious," said Schulte.

Republicans in Iowa, like plenty of other states coming off caucuses or primaries, are riding high on new voter registration numbers.

In Iowa, the GOP has a lead of almost 4,000 active voters and months of anti-Obama ads on the airwaves.

Tight Ground Race

Doug Gross ran Romney's Iowa effort four years ago but has since parted ways with the candidate. He says the president's campaign is the one swimming upstream.

"What Barack Obama has to do is change the narrative. Instead of this being about, 'Am I happy with where things are now?' and, 'Do I give this guy another four years?' It's gotta be, 'Mitt Romney is a totally, totally unacceptable extremist alternative.' That requires a lot of media, paid media to do that," said Gross.

In other words: ads.

Yet in a tight race like the November election, neither side can just dominate the airwaves. University of Iowa politics professor Tim Hagle says on-the-ground campaigning is what bridges the enthusiasm gap for independent voters.

"It's that whole idea of getting people excited about the race so that they do in fact turn out," said Hagle.

And that grass-roots effort, that's what the Obama volunteers back at the old Blockbuster store are banking on. One thing they can also count on — Romney won't be gone for long.

Copyright 2020 Iowa Public Radio News. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio News.

Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter who covers politics, education, public policy and just about everything in between for Iowa Public Radio, and is based in Cedar Rapids. Her work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. She's also contributed coverage to WNYC in New York, Harvest Public Media, Austin Public Radio (KUT) and the Texas Tribune. Winner of the 2012 regional RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Award and NBNA Eric Sevareid Award for investigative reporting, Kate came to Iowa Public Radio in 2010 from New England. Previously, she was a news intern for New Hampshire Public Radio.