While the president and Republican rival Mitt Romney have focused attention on the key swing state of Ohio in the final weeks, Iowa remains a pivotal battleground, and Mr. Obama has a special fondness for the place that gave him his first primary victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008.
Joined by Mrs. Obama, rock legend Bruce Springsteen, and a bevy of longtime friends and advisers who have worked for and supported him over the past four years, the president waxed nostalgic about the role Iowa played in catapulting the little-known first-term senator from Illinois into the political stratosphere.
“I’ve come back to Iowa one more time to ask for your vote. I came back to ask you to help us finish what we’ve started because this is where our movement for change began,” he said, tearing up a bit. “Right here … it’s brought back a whole lot of memories.”
While warming up the crowd of 20,000 before introducing the president, Mr. Springsteen urged Americans to give the president a second term and sang a song he wrote for Mr. Obama’s re-election based on the campaign slogan, “Forward.”
“If the swing states are swinging, they will tilt right into the Obama column right after this song,” he said, noting that the first presidential debate “really freaked him out.”
For his playing rallies in Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa, the Boss and his wife, Patti, joined Mr. Obama on Air Force One for the day.
“It was pretty cool,” Mr. Springsteen told reporters on the tarmac.
At one point during the flights, Mr. Obama called New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to check in on the response to Hurricane Sandy, then put the Springsteen fan on the phone with his musical hero.
“It was great to talk to the president, and even better to talk to Bruce,” Mr. Christie told reporters.
Before the Iowa event, the president and his staff gathered in a hold room that served as their Iowa campaign headquarters in 2008.
“I think tonight is going to be fairly profoundly emotional night, to be there where it all started and nobody really saw how we could put it all together,” David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, told reporters traveling with the president earlier Monday before the president’s first rally in Madison, Wis.
Mr. Plouffe, along with Mr. Axelrod, wore matching navy blue fleece pullovers from the 2008 campaign, and another fixture from the first campaign, Robert Gibbs, seemed remiss to have left his at home.
Reggie Love, Mr. Obama’s former personal assistant, was also on hand, and aides said the president planned to shoot some hoops with the former Duke basketball player to pass the time while returns come in on Tuesday.
“It’s like the end of a long-running series and all the characters are coming back to be here,” Mr. Axelrod said.