Iowa Makes Fertile Battleground for Obama, Romney

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- "We'll be the last people on the planet to starve to death."

Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) says this with a chuckle as he chats about the strength of Iowa's agricultural sector -- just one of many bright economic spots for the nine-year incumbent congressman to boast about.

It's a state that found resilience and growth during the Great Recession, and now enjoys an unemployment rate well below the national average along with a surging agricultural and manufacturing sector.

"This economic crisis didn't find Iowans highly leveraged, and we saw our agriculture commodity prices stay up there -- part of it was the really high energy prices we had at the same time -- and so we came through it building capital rather than watching a downward spiral," says King.

So why does President Barack Obama, who won the state by almost 10 percentage points in 2008, barely lead Mitt Romney in most major polls there?

"The economy nationally still isn't where it needs to get, so I think that's a little bit different than when you're running as a first-time candidate with a fresh approach," says Tom Henderson, Polk County, Iowa Democratic Party chairman. "You can be doing well as a state but you also want the nation to be doing well, because that gives you a feeling of security that it's not going to come visit you."

The latest U.S. economic data is mixed at best. Gross domestic product grew in the most recent quarter at a sluggish 1.9%; the June jobs report revealed that the country is adding jobs, but slowly, and activity in the manufacturing sector dipped last month into slight contraction for the first time since July 2009.

But if you simply narrowed in on Iowa's economy since 2008, you would have weathered Lehman Brothers, bailouts, the European debt crisis pretty nicely.

The jobless rate in Iowa is 5.1%, good enough for 7th in the country; unemployment claims are down 16.8% year over year; personal income was up 6.4% in 2011 from 2010; home sales are up 14.4% (based on general Midwest sales) and farmland values are up 27% against a year ago.

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