Sources say Obama visit to Cedar Rapids area likely next week

President could be visiting Cornell College Wednesday; campaign still viewing Iowa as 'battleground'

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MARION — President Barack Obama will return to Cedar Rapids on Wednesday as part of his strategy to finish strong in the state that launched him on the road to the presidency four years ago.

Obama supporter Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, made the announcement at a debate-watch party at the local Obama for America headquarters on Mount Vernon Road. A location for the visit hasn’t yet been finalized.

The news came after Obama’s national campaign leaders touted the Democratic Party’s lead in voter registration efforts and early voting. Coming 20 days before the election, the visit doesn’t reflect concern about the president’s campaign here, national campaign manager Jim Messina said Thursday.

“Look, we’ve always said Iowa is a battleground state,” Messina said. “We continue to feel very good about our chances in Iowa. We have a lead, but we’re the Obama campaign. We’re not taking anything for granted.”

However, the numbers he and national field director Jeremy Bird see in Iowa are encouraging.

“I’m a data-driven guy,” Messina said in a conference call with reporters. “The first thing I read every morning are the numbers. Not poll numbers, but numbers that mean something to me: registered voters, ballots requested and early votes cast.

“Those numbers are telling the real story of this election,” he said.

But according to Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign, the president is using “debunked metrics” to distract Iowans from another set of numbers — the national debt and unemployment rate.

“President Obama has failed to explain to Iowans why he should be re-elected after four years of trillion-dollar deficits, rising health care and energy prices, and 21 tax hikes, including a new tax on millions of middle-class Americans,” said Romney spokesman Shawn McCoy.

A second Obama term would bring “more of the same,” he said, while Romney would deliver a “real recovery with pro-growth tax reforms that create millions of good-paying jobs and greater prosperity for all Americans.”

In Iowa, Democrats lead in by-mail voting, in-person early voting, total voting and total ballots requested, Bird said. In fact, he said the party has a wider margin than four years ago in ballots requested and ballots cast.

According to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, 376,200 ballots had been requested as of Wednesday, including 111,877 from Republicans and 181,026 from Democrats. Republicans have returned 50,032 ballots, while Democrats have turned in 101,613.

Republicans, who didn’t start their early voting push as early as the Obama campaign did, say they expect Democrats to maintain an early voting advantage. But they also see the numbers tightening, and they note that Republicans have shown a preference for Election Day voting.

So “it’s still a race,” Olson said. However, he believes victory will come down to the ground game played by Obama volunteers.

“I’ll put the strength of the Obama organization up against anyone’s,” Olson said.

Obama’s visit comes just six weeks after his Iowa City rally Sept. 7. Since June, he’s made 13 visits to Iowa, according to the Washington Post candidate tracker.

The president, who made Cedar Rapids his first stop after formally entering the 2008 presidential campaign, has visited the city twice this year. He spoke at Conveyor Engineering & Manufacturing the day after delivering the annual State of the Union speech to Congress, and he returned for a speech at Kirkwood Community College in July.

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