Obama's first Iowa stop Saturday was in Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, and he then headed to Sioux City to speak at Morningside College.
The president has campaigned repeatedly in Iowa this summer and his trips usually have included stops in counties where he lost to Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. That includes Woodbury County, where Sioux City is located and where he lost to McCain by half a percentage point.
Democratic activists in northwest Iowa acknowledged that Republican Mitt Romney will almost certainly take more votes in the region, but they said the president's visits could help shrink the margin. Romney faces a similar challenge in urban areas, such as Des Moines and Davenport that typically favor Democrats.
"From Sioux City north, he won't win," said Kenneth Mertes, chairman of the Monona County Democratic Party. "Up there, in my perspective, it goes from 'Bad' to 'Oh, my gosh.' "
Still, Mertes said Obama may be able to tap the "enthusiasm gap" that he believes voters feel toward Romney and win in Sioux City.
Obama supporters who lined up at Morningside College praised his support for a federal wind-energy tax credit and his push to pass a farm bill, even as they acknowledged that he's a long-shot in the region.
"Boy, this is such a Republican area that I don't know that any Democrat could win," said Margery Tiedeman, 66, of Sheldon. "It's so lonesome out here."
Joanie McWilliams, 65, of Sioux City, said she was elated to see Obama. At the same time, she said, northwest Iowa has consistently elected U.S. Rep. Steve King, one of the most outspoken conservatives in the House.
"It's a tough area of the state," she said. "I think the president just has to keep coming forward with the truth - that he's not what the Republicans are trying to make him out to be."
Dan Risner, a night-shift factory worker and union member from Sioux City, said the president needs another term to revive the economy. Risner said he was angry with recent Republican efforts to weaken unions.
"There are a lot of people who are getting tough of all the conservative stuff," Risner said. "They're getting sick of working for nothing. People are getting tired of it."
In a statement Saturday, Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said: "President Obama has dubbed this trip the 'Road to Charlotte,' but his policies have taken us on a road to declining incomes, higher unemployment and more uncertainty for the middle class."
In his Sioux City speech, Obama president emphasized his support for the federal wind-energy tax credit, seen as a key issue in a state that is among the nation's leaders in wind energy. Romney opposes extension of the tax credit. Republican businessman Rob Hach, who owns a wind-energy consulting business in Alta, also spoke on the president's behalf.
Saturday's visit follows Obama's speech last month to a crowd of more than 4,000 in Council Bluffs, the seat of Pottawattamie County, which McCain won. On that three-day Iowa trip, Obama later stopped in Oskaloosa, in Mahaska County, where McCain claimed more than 57 percent of the vote.
The last sitting president to visit Sioux City was George W. Bush, who filled the Tyson Events Center in 2004. Obama last visited the city during the 2008 campaign, and drew large crowds during several stops in 2007 before the Iowa caucuses.
Dennis Goldford, a Drake University political science professor, said Obama's visit to Sioux City was comparable to the GOP's push to win Hispanic and women voters. They likely won't win a majority of such voters, but any gains are helpful.
"That part of the state isn't Mississippi or Alabama or Oklahoma. But if there's any part of Iowa that's very unlikely to go for President Obama, it would be western Iowa," Goldford said. "However, it's enjoyable to play well in your opponents' backyard - and that's certainly the Republicans' backyard."
Iowa state Rep. Chris Hall, a Sioux City Democrat, said residents in his district are usually willing to listen to candidates from both parties. Hall is the only Democrat in the city's five-member legislative delegation.
"Voters look for somebody they can relate to, somebody they can trust and believe," he said. "They're looking for someone who will keep their best interests in mind. The ability to relate to people is much more important than having a 'D' or an 'R' behind your name."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)