If unemployment was the only factor driving this presidential election, Mitt Romney would not be spending much time campaigning in Iowa, where the state's agricultural economy is relatively healthy, and the state boasts a 5.2 percent unemployment rate, the lowest for any battleground state.
But spending and debt are big issues in the American heartland, too. And that's why Romney spent time on the trail in Des Moines Tuesday, with a speech decrying excessive government spending.
Concern over federal spending is what drove the tea party movement into existence in 2009, and it's an issue that hasn't gone away in 2012. It's what's driving Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's momentum in next month's gubernatorial recall, with a deficit-conscious GOP base showing high levels of enthusiasm. (It's also an effective message with independents: Check out this new ad from Republican New Mexico Senate candidate Heather Wilson that's focused squarely on the debt, deficit and spending -- in a Democratic-leaning state.)
When pollsters ask voters what their most important issue is, the catch-all "jobs and the economy" comes first. But the number of voters naming the deficit rose in 2010 and has remained largely constant, and it's an issue that's driving conservatives to the polls. It's also a way for Romney to criticize the president on the economy in states that haven't suffered the brunt of the downturn.
New Hampshire is another state with a solid economy, but one receptive to Romney's small-government messaging. Indeed, the RNC held a conference call today, featuring former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu and former New Hampshire Rep. Jeb Bradley, decrying Obama's record on debt and deficits. Obama may be leading in early Granite State polls, but the Romney campaign is optimistic about their chances there, hoping to take advantage of the state's "live free or die" sentiment.
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