- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2012

PLEASANTVILLE, Iowa — Three days before Christmas in 2007, with polls in Iowa showing a dead heat, candidate Barack Obama pulled up to Smokey Row Coffee House in Pleasantville for hot tea and pumpkin pie and face time with caucus-goers who were about to decide his future.

One of his questioners, Becky Michael, made national headlines by demanding to know more about what she called his “Muslim background.” The question had dogged him throughout the campaign and Mr. Obama once again patiently explained his Christian upbringing and faith, assuring her, “I’ve always been Christian.”

Mr. Obama is now in the White House and up for re-election, which means he, too, will compete in Iowa’s caucuses, this time unopposed, on Tuesday.

In the sandwich shops and restaurants where he built his 2008 victory, bite-by-bite, the questions about his faith have been pushed aside, but others have replaced them: Has the president fulfilled his campaign promises, has he produced the change he promised, and is the country better off?

For Mrs. Michael, the answer is an unqualified no.

On Nov. 8, 2007, then Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama stopped in at Smitty's Sandwich Shop and bought a tenderloin sandwich to go from owner Shari Lepley. Mr. Obama is on the ballot again this year, unchallenged. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
On Nov. 8, 2007, then Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama stopped in ... more >

“I think he was very articulate, I think he was very confident. I thought he was very, very personable,” said Mrs. Michael, who told The Washington Times she reluctantly ended up voting for the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. “But look what he’s done in office. America is headed for the pits as the superpower of the world, and we know who’s going to take over, and it’s not going to be a Christian nation.”

But on the whole, the Iowa voters who shook hands and broke bread with Mr. Obama during that 2008 slog to the nomination said they are ready to see him win another term.

“He’s upheld his part of the bargain,” said Heather Goode, who was working at Smokey Row that day in 2007 and served the future president his tea and pie and talked to him for a bit.

Mr. Obama made 44 visits to Iowa in the run-up to the 2008 caucuses, spending all or parts of 86 days and making hundreds of stops, according to the list maintained by Eric M. Appleman of Democracy in Action. He ate his way across the state, chowing down on pie and sandwiches.

The Times visited three of the places where Mr. Obama campaigned during his 2008 caucus bid and found a deep well of good will toward the president, with voters exceptionally willing to cut him a break and almost uniformly saying his chief problems were not of his own making.

“I think Obama needs to go back in for four years,” said Shari Lepley, owner of the 80-year-old Smitty’s in Albia, where Mr. Obama stopped in November 2008 to sample a tenderloin sandwich, a state specialty. “I think the poor man just stepped into a mess.”

Mrs. Lepley confided that she had meant to change the cooking grease that day, but got sidetracked when the mysterious call came in asking how late Smitty’s was open. When the person couldn’t give a reason for the question, Mrs. Lepley suspected something was up.

For some time, a photo of the president’s visit hung, framed, on the wall near the counter, alongside a veritable shrine to local baseball and football teams, and to Mrs. Lepley’s daughter, a softball player in high school and college.

Mrs. Lepley said some folks were surprised to see the Obama photo, figuring there was no way he had eaten there and that it must have been doctored.

Coincidentally, the photo of Mr. Obama’s visit to Smokey Row also has come down — it was the victim of graffiti.

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