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Locals say Iowa City good choice for Obama visit

BY ADAM B SULLIVAN | MARCH 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Why Iowa City?

Access to health-care here is good. Neither of the Congressional races in the eastern part of the state are particularly contentious. And the University of Iowa campus is 1,000 miles — plus a half-hour car ride — from the White House.

Still, observers say it makes sense President Obama would choose Iowa City to make one of his first appearances since signing a landmark health-care bill into law earlier this week.

“I suppose that the people on the East and the West Coasts might be wondering why Iowa?” UI political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle said. “But you have to remember, of course, that this is where Obama got his start in some sense.”

On the eve of Obama’s first visit to Iowa City since his election, local supporters reflected on Iowa City’s role in Obama’s rise to the presidency.

“We had the privilege of having the front seat, so it makes a lot of sense to me that we would have the privilege and honor of being one of the first stops as we begin the second year of work,” said Sue Dvorsky, the vice chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party and one of the coordinators of Obama’s Johnson County campaign.

Capitalizing on Iowa’s role as the first-in-the-nation caucus state, Obama campaigned heavily in eastern Iowa between 2006 and November 2008. He took 70 percent of the vote in Johnson County.

One of the visits was particularly pertinent to the health-care debate, UI spokesman Tom Moore said. In May 2007, Obama appeared on the UI’s medical campus to outline health-care reform as one of his key intentions as president.

“I was there. It was a big event at the time, nationally as a matter of fact,” said Dennis Roseman, who leads the Johnson County Democrats. “I think he wants to bring things kind of full circle.”

According to officials at the White House, the president plans to explain to the Iowa City audience what his new health-care law will do for small businesses and families. Even though the legislation has been signed into law, Hagle said, the president still has an interest in selling his agenda to his constituents.

Americans as a whole narrowly support the health-care reform passed by Congressional Democrats, according to a recent Gallup Poll. Most Democrats support the measure, while most Republicans oppose. Independents are evenly split.

“If he’s in a weakened position because he put all of his political resources into this fight, then it’s going to hurt him in other areas, so he’s going to need to try to rebuild that,” said Hagle, a Republican.

Hagle anticipates Democrats will continue to promote the health-care discussion, banking on an increase in support for the plan, something local Democrats say is inevitable.

“When they find grandma is walking around smiling, people will say what was that all about?” Roseman said, pointing to Republicans’ allegation that the law includes measures that would leave the elderly to die.

Dvorsky, however, speculated Obama will shift his focus away from health care, using today’s event to “let people know the next step.”

“There was a huge emphasis on the passage of this bill, but there are many fronts of the domestic agenda — health care, education, immigration, environment,” she said. “There’s a huge amount on this president’s plate. He’ll begin to frame the conversation on what the next steps are.”

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