In the land of “prairie fires” and “cow-pies,” summer is starting with a dead heat.
Iowa seems to always play an over-sized role in picking presidents. Its caucuses start the nominating process every four years, and this year it’s also getting plenty of attention as a general election battleground state.
An NBC News-Marist poll released today shows President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney tied in the state, each finding the support of 44 percent of registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a candidate. Ten percent of voters in the Hawkeye State are completely undecided, the poll shows.
The fact that Iowans have seen more of these two men than voters in just about any state — and yet remain divided — suggests this could be a close election nationwide.
It’s not only the candidates whom Iowans have seen. In a 30-day span, from April 30 through May 29, the campaigns and allied committees aired 5,891 presidential campaign ads in Iowa, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a company that tracks advertising.
The campaigns aired more than half of them — Obama’s 3,092, Romney’s 1,396 — with four other groups, such as Crossroads GPS, weighing in with hundreds of their own ads.
Romney last visited Iowa about two weeks ago. It was his first visit since he and his rivals in the Republican race repeatedly campaigned there prior to the state caucuses that kicked off the party’s contest on Jan. 3.
Romney was initially declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses, before a subsequent review gave a 34-vote victory to former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Santorum, who emerged as Romney’s main challenger, ended his bid for the Republican nomination on April 10.
Obama landed in Iowa aboard Air Force One just nine days after Romney’s visit.
Addressing a cheering rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on May 24, Obama delivered his sharpest attacks to date against Romney.
The president mocked his Republican rival, who said during a May 15 visit to Des Moines that Obama’s failure to rein in federal spending is causing “a prairie fire of debt.”
That is a “cow pie of distortion,” Obama replied, drawing upon his own homespun metaphor.
The campaign for Iowa’s six electoral votes will play out in a state with a better economic environment than the national picture. The state’s jobless rate in April was 5.1 percent, below the national average of 8.1 percent and down from 6.3 percent in November 2010.
Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux contributed to this report.