President Obama took his middle-class tax-cut message on Tuesday to Iowa, a state where some of the same voters who helped hand him a landslide primary victory and inspired the nation to embrace his come-from-behind candidacy in 2008 are experiencing a case of buyer's remorse.
During remarks at the Kirkland Recreational Center in Cedar Rapids, the president stressed his own humble beginnings as he tried to demonstrate the significance of extending the Bush-era tax breaks for middle-class families making less than $250,000 a year.
Just prior to the speech, Mr. Obama visited with a local family — Jason McLaughlin, who is about to become a high school principal, his wife, Ali, and their young son, Cooper — and discussed how the tax cuts have helped the McLaughlins make ends meet in tough economic times.
In a transparent effort to contrast his background with GOP rival Mitt Romney's status as a mega-millionaire, Mr. Obama said the McLaughlin family home resembled the one he and Michelle had owned for their first 13 years of marriage and said he related to the bills they are confronted with each month.
"The mortgage, the student loans, the electricity bills, the car note, day care," he said. "Everything they were talking about was familiar because Michelle and I went through it."
Taking credit for giving the McLaughlins some $4,900 in tax relief during his time in office, he told the crowd that the family and others like them could be hit with a $2,200 tax hike at the end of the year if Congress doesn't act and the Bush-era tax cuts expire.
"It would not only be a huge blow to families, it would be a huge blow to our economy," he said.
Republicans and Mr. Romney want to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts — for the middle-class, as well as high earners with annual household incomes over $250,000 — before they tackle a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code early next year.
Casting Republicans as protecting the rich, Mr. Obama is pushing the tax-cut issue ahead of the election and calling on Republicans to pass the middle-class tax cuts and "not hold the vast majority of Americans hostage" to a debate over whether to grant tax cuts for the top 2 percent of U.S. households.
"What do you usually do when you agree on 98 percent and disagree on the other 2 percent?" he asked the crowd. "Go ahead and do the 98 percent and hold off on the 2 percent. Let's agree when we can agree."
President Obama won Iowa by a decisive 9.54 percent over Sen. John McCain in 2008, but right now the race is too close to call, with a rolling average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com showing a dead heat for the small Midwest state's cache of six Electoral College votes. Strategists on both campaigns predict this year's Iowa contest will be the most intense in the state's political history.
Mr. Obama appeared to acknowledge his dip in popularity in the state while fighting hard to regain momentum.
"I know at times it can be tempting to lose interest and lose heart," Mr. Obama told the crowd, referring to the constant flood of campaigning and negative ads in the state. "I'm betting that you won't. I'm betting that you will be as fired up as you were in 2008 because you understand the stakes for America."
Intent on holding onto Iowa, Mr. Obama is responsible for a fusillade of advertising unprecedented in both its early start, as well as its price tag. Some of the earliest ads, as well a more recent assaults, focus on Mr. Romney's time as the head of Bain Capital, portraying him as a early proponent of outsourcing U.S. jobs.
The president continued to press that same theme Tuesday when he claimed credit for pursuing the auto industry bailout during the height of the economic crisis and supporting American manufacturing while he said Mr. Romney wanted to let the U.S. car companies go bankrupt and was known during his time at Bain as a pioneer of outsourcing.
Mr. Romney countered President Obama's claim that he outsourced jobs overseas as governor of Massachusetts, saying that the Democrat is twisting facts and hiding blemishes on his own record.
Speaking at a town-hall style meeting in Grand Junction, Colo., Mr. Romney said that independent fact checkers have called Mr. Obama's attacks against him both "false and misleading."
"But it is interesting that when it comes to outsourcing that this president has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself by putting money into energy companies — solar and wind — that end up making their products outside the United States," he said. "If there is an outsourcer-in-chief, it is the president of the United States, not the guy who is running to replace him."
Mr. Obama and Democrats have touted a report in The Washington Post that said some of the businesses that Mr. Romney's former company Bain Capital invested in outsourced American jobs to cut costs.
Republicans and the Romney camp are now trying to turn the tables, pointing to a more recent report in the Washington Post in which Mr. Obama record on outsourcing also comes under fire.
• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.
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