John Dickerson’s profiles Iowa in Salon.com.
Iowa was the emotional center of the 2008 Obama campaign. The state launched him when he beat Hillary Clinton in the caucuses. Obama went on to win the general election in Iowa by 10 percentage points, but that margin of victory was out of character for the state. President Bush narrowly won Iowa by 10,000 votes in 2004 after having lost it by less than 5,000 votes in 2000. Now, like the rest of the country, Iowa is reverting back to its normal condition—a 50/50 state with narrow electoral margins.
In the most recent NBC Electoral College analysis, they have Iowa as Lean Republican, which may be a stretch, but they feel that the avalanche of negative attacks on Obama in the months leading up to the Republican Caucuses and Republican takeovers of the Iowa legislature and Governorship in 2010 gives an edge to the Romney in a tight contest. Also, Dickerson cites the importance of the debt to Iowan’s and the fact that Romney has a significant advantage when asked who would do a better job on the issue. Among Obama’s advantages in Iowa are his ground game (which could be decisive in a close swing state) as well as (surprisingly) the economy. Unemployment is 5.2% in Iowa, which is well below the national average (an advantage that Obama has in Virginia and New Hampshire as well).
Current polls show a tossup in Iowa, and the stakes are high for the president. He can win without Iowa, but a loss in the state would mean that he would need to carry states like Virginia or Ohio, both of which went to Obama by smaller margins than Iowa in 2008.