DES MOINES - President Barack Obama's trip to the state that launched him toward the White House is being billed as a return visit. But in fact he never really left.
In Iowa, there are signs everywhere of the organization he's building for his re-election campaign in 2012.
The massive field operation that lifted Obama to his surprise win in Iowa's leadoff caucuses last year is revving up. Earlier this spring, the president activated his grass-roots campaign apparatus, Organizing for America. The group is holding town-hall meetings across Iowa beginning this week, including events in Cedar Rapids and college towns such as Grinnell and Cedar Falls, which voted heavily for Obama in the caucuses.
In this file photo, then-Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. speaks to local residents in New Hampton. Obama’s trip to the state that launched him toward the White House is being billed as a return visit. But in fact he never really left. In Iowa, there are signs everywhere of the organization he’s building for his re-election campaign in 2012.
''There's still a lot of excitement out there. There's a feeling that what we worked for in the election can happen right now,'' said Derek Eadon, who worked for Obama during the primary and general election campaigns. ''We look for volunteers everywhere. It's something we did on the campaign as well. We will start branching out and this is absolutely ongoing.''
Eadon is Iowa field organizer for Organizing for America, which is technically financed by the Democratic National Committee but run by Obama.
The president makes his first trip to Iowa since the election for an Earth Day tour Wednesday of a former Maytag Corp., factory in the small community of Newton. The town suffered a huge economic blow when its biggest employer was sold and then closed its operations, but it responded by attracting two wind energy manufacturers. One company is bringing green technology to a cavernous building that once produced washers, refrigerators and dryers.
Obama hopes to use the trip to argue that the nation's manufacturing base can be revitalized by focusing on alternative energy sources.
The president's swing through the state will last barely three hours, but it is rich in symbolism and signals that Obama has the next election squarely in his sights.
Since his inauguration, Obama's itinerary reads like a list of swing and Republican-leaning states that pushed him to the presidency - Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana and now Iowa. The White House on Tuesday announced a stop in Missouri on the 100th day of his administration; Obama lost the state by a slim margin.
On one issue, Iowa has changed dramatically since Obama's last appearance in October - same-sex marriage is now legal. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that denying gays the right to marry is discriminatory, and same-sex couples can get licenses starting Monday. Obama supports civil unions but has said marriage is between a man and a woman.
It's hard to remember now, but Obama was once a distinct underdog in the race for the Democratic nomination. In order to overcome early favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama built extensive field organizations, starting in Iowa.
David Roederer, who ran Republican rival John McCain's campaign in Iowa, said he's impressed with Obama's grasp of the political basics.
''In an organization you build it up and then you try to feed it a little bit, but then it starts waning,'' Roederer said. ''Suddenly you discover you've got to put the whole thing together again for the next election. What they are doing is very, very smart and it doesn't have anything to do with policy.''
Still, Roederer said he can't recall another president establishing a campaign organization within months of taking office.
''I've not seen that done before,'' he said.
Veteran Democratic strategist Jeff Link, who has spent much of his career working for Sen. Tom Harkin, said Obama's approach can help him implement policies now, then get re-elected later.
''They are developing a political operation that will help move his issue agenda,'' Link said.
Farmer and state legislator John Whitaker said he recognizes many of Obama's tactics from the nine years he spent as an organizer for the Iowa Farmers Union.
''Sometimes you've got to be pro-active,'' he said. ''It keeps the organization going. It keeps the enthusiasm going.''
Eadon put it simply in announcing his opening tour of town-hall meetings.
''I'm so excited to announce that we're back on the ground in Iowa,'' he said.