Mixed Feelings Abound As Obama Visits Iowa

Aug 16, 2011
Originally published on August 24, 2011 12:38 pm

As President Obama travels on a three-day, three-state Midwestern bus tour to talk about the economy and jobs, one of the places he has visited is the city of Decorah in northeast Iowa.

The tiny college town — whose economy is doing considerably better than the nation as a whole — is friendly territory for the president. Obama carried the county by a wide margin in 2008.

Among voters now, you'll find plenty of loyalists — but also plenty of frustration.

Dave Donaldson, 45, who works at the local video store, is an independent who voted for both Presidents Bush, as well as for Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Obama.

"From what I've seen, I've seen a lot of talk and not so much action. I did believe in the message of hope and change. I did. In retrospect, not so much," Donaldson says.

Donaldson says he's disappointed that the job picture isn't far better and that this far into his presidency, Obama should stop pointing the finger of blame at his predecessor.

At a sports bar in downtown Decorah on Monday, about a dozen people watched live coverage of the president's town hall meeting happening just miles away. As Obama took on a tougher tone than usual, some at the bar clapped and expressed support for what he was saying.

Among them was Joanne Jurs, 74, who says her support for Obama is unwavering.

"Not wavering at all," she said. "I'm married to one who's wavering just a little."

Jurs says her husband wants to see more decisiveness from the president and more of a plan for the economy, but she stresses that he is still a supporter.

Tea Party Stakes Out A Spot

As the president's event ended, crowds started lining up along downtown streets on the route the motorcade would take. Many just wanted a glimpse of the president. And certainly there were a lot of supporters, but the local Tea Party had also staked out a spot.

Thomas Hansen, 49, who raises and sells organic beef, organized the Tea Party gathering. He held up a sign that read, "Mr. President, a rural, small American businessman wishes to talk to you."

"And that's me," Hansen said. "That's what he said he was on the tour for."

The president's bus suddenly turned a corner, and rolled past.

Greg Moeller, 48, a Tea Party activist and a computer technician, said it's important that Obama saw not just supporters when he came to town.

"We're here to endeavor to represent our interests as citizens of the United States to the president," Moeller said.

Meanwhile, another crowd gathered on the street in front of the Winneshiek Hotel, where the president stayed.

Uwe Rudolf, 68, who is retired from Luther College, a major employer here, held a sign of his own.

"It says, 'Yes, Obama, No Tea Party,' " Rudolf said.

The other side of his sign contained the phrase "take on the naysayers." Rudolf says his only complaint about the president is that he's not aggressive enough with Republicans in Congress. But he likes the idea of this tour.

"I watched him on CNN today. He is coming on a little stronger. Finally," Rudolf said.

And Rudolf predicts that's something that's absolutely critical if the president hopes for a second term.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama is in the middle of a three-day, three-state bus tour of the Midwest to talk about the economy and jobs. One of the places he visited is Decorah, Iowa in Northeast Iowa. It's a tiny college town tucked amid the farmland, and it's friendly territory for the president. The economy is doing considerably better in Decorah than in the nation as a whole, and Mr. Obama carried the county by a wide margin in 2008.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea talked to people there, and he found both loyalty and frustration.

DON GONYEA: Driving into Decorah, Iowa yesterday, I stopped at a local video store to ask directions. I met 45-year-old Dave Donaldson who works there. We made small talk about the president's visit.

DAVE DONALDSON: That is exciting. Unfortunately, I'm not going to most likely get a chance to meet him, but it's a big deal.

GONYEA: Then Donaldson said he's an independent who's voted for both Presidents Bush, for Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and President Obama. As for his feelings today...

DONALDSON: Oh, frustrated. From what I've seen, I've seen a lot of talk and not so much action. And I did believe in the message of hope and change. I really did. In retrospect, not so much.

GONYEA: Donaldson says he's disappointed that the jobs picture isn't far better and says this far into his presidency, Mr. Obama should stop pointing the finger of blame at President Bush. Next stop is a sports bar in downtown Decorah. Most of the TVs in the place are tuned to ESPN, but one screen has CNN and live coverage of the president's town hall just a few miles away.

President BARACK OBAMA: There no reason for us to wait putting construction workers back to work all across the country. No reason...

GONYEA: About a dozen people are watching the president whose speech has a tougher tone than usual. Some clap and express support for what he's saying, among them 74 -year-old Joanne Jurs.

So you seem to be an Obama supporter.

JOANNE JURS: Oh, yes.

GONYEA: Still.

JURS: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: Not wavering.

JURS: Not wavering at all.

GONYEA: Some supporters are.

JURS: I know they are. I'm married to one that's wavering just a little.

GONYEA: Jurs clarifies that her husband wants to see more decisiveness from the president and more of a plan for the economy. But she stresses he is still a supporter. Jurs' 48-year-old daughter Gretchen stands next to her mom. I ask about Republican criticism that this is little more than a campaign trip.

GRETCHEN: Even if it is a campaign trip, I wouldn't say one way or another. But it's encouraging to me, and that may be part of his intent. I think it's kind of a campaign trip, but they're all campaigning, so why not him?

GONYEA: The president's event ends and crowds start lining up along the route the motorcade is expected to take. Many just want a glimpse of the president. And certainly, there are a lot of supporters here, but the local Tea Party has also staked out a spot along the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) And crown thy good with brotherhood.

GONYEA: Forty-nine-year-old Thomas Hansen, who raises and sells organic beef, organized the Tea Party gathering. He holds up a sign.

THOMAS HANSEN: Sign says: Mr. President, a rural American small businessman wishes to talk to you.

GONYEA: And that's you.

HANSEN: That's me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HANSEN: That's what he said he was on a tour for.

GONYEA: The president's bus suddenly turns a corner and rolls past.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GONYEA: Among the Tea Party activists, 48-eight-year-old Greg Moeller, a computer tech. He says it's important that the president see not just supporters when he comes to town.

GREG MOELLER: Well, we're here to endeavor to represent our interests, I guess, as citizens of the United States to the president.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, another crowd gathered on the street in front of the Winneshiek Hotel where the president stayed.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANT)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Obama, Obama, Obama, Obama.

GONYEA: Uwe Rudolf is 68 years old and retired from Luther College, which is a major employer here. He's holding a sign of his own.

UWE RUDOLF: Well, it says: Yes Obama and No Tea Party.

GONYEA: And the other side of his sign contains the phrase: Take on the naysayers. Rudolf says his only big complaint about the president is that he's not aggressive enough with Republicans in Congress. He likes the idea of this tour.

RUDOLF: I watched him on CNN today, and he is coming on a little stronger finally.

GONYEA: And Rudolf predicts that something that's absolutely critical if the president hopes for a second term. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Decorah, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.