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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
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And I'm Audie Cornish. President Obama is wrapping up a three-day bus trip through Iowa. It took him the length of the state from west to east. Following stops in Dubuque and Davenport, the president flies home tonight to Washington. The trip has been a chance to see old friends, attack a new political rival and sample some of Iowa's famous pork chops washed down with beer.
NPR's Scott Horsley has been riding along.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama jokes that his customized secret service bus is a little more comfortable than the vehicles he used to travel in, but otherwise, he says this trip is not so different from the campaign that launched his national career five years ago.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Back in 2007, 2008, I was on your farms and in your backyards and on your porches and that's where our movement for change really began, right here in Iowa.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama highlighted a number of policy proposals this week, from farm aid to wind power as he traveled around Iowa and, in each case, he tried to connect the dots to one of the central themes of that earlier campaign. In western Iowa, Mr. Obama visited a corn field stunted by the summer drought and explained why it is the federal government should help livestock producers struggling with rising feed prices.
OBAMA: The notion that I'm my brother's keeper, I'm my sister's keeper, the idea that we're in this together - that was at the heart of the journey that began here in Iowa five years ago.
HORSLEY: In central Iowa, Mr. Obama toured a wind farm that's organized as a regional cooperative so neighbors throughout the area share in the proceeds.
OBAMA: And that's an example of what America's about. We believe in free enterprise. We believe in hard work. The Heil family is an example of that, but we also believe in neighborliness and working together for the common good.
HORSLEY: For Mr. Obama, government can be a vehicle for carrying out that collective spirit while Republicans, including Mitt Romney's new running mate, Paul Ryan, emphasize individual freedom and tend to see government as an obstacle. The president challenged that Ryan philosophy, which is inspired by the novelist Ayn Rand, throughout his Iowa bus tour.
OBAMA: He is an articulate spokesperson for Governor Romney's views. The problem is those views are wrong. I fundamentally disagree with their vision for America.
HORSLEY: Some of the best pictures on a campaign bus tour don't come from the formal rallies, but rather from the unscripted stops along the way, at a high school, a tavern or the beer tent at the Iowa State Fair.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We want more beer.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has never been a natural glad hander in this kind of setting, but he appears to have grown more comfortable with this part of the job and the campaign seems eager to showcase Mr. Obama as more of a beer drinking, regular guy, at least in comparison to Mitt Romney, a tea-totaling Mormon.
OBAMA: Yesterday, I got to the state fair and had a pork chop and a beer.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)
OBAMA: It was good. I might have another beer today.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)
OBAMA: Well, just one. Just one.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama also shared a coffee yesterday with the regulars at the Coffee Connection in Knoxville, Iowa. The owner, Mark Raymie, is a Republican who says he hasn't decided how he'll vote in November, but he had kind words for the president.
MARK RAYMIE: I think he's had a lot of tough issues to deal with and he's handled them as well as could be expected, considering what's going on with the economy. Nobody can handle that right off the bat like that. That's hard stuff.
HORSLEY: Not everyone was so impressed. Jarret Heil, whose family owns part of that wind farm the president visited, issued a statement calling Mr. Obama gracious and personable, but criticizing his policies on taxes, bank regulation and birth control.
Polls show Mr. Obama faces a much closer contest in Iowa this year than he did four years ago. That's one reason the president spent three full days campaigning here this week.
OBAMA: We know that journey's not done yet. We've still got a lot of work to do.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama still has a lot of ground he wants to cover before he turns over the keys to the presidential bus. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Highway 61 southbound, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.