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Get ready for fried food on a stick and political debate. We're going to Iowa. The state was back in the political spotlight today as both President Obama and Mitt Romney's new running mate made stops there.
The president kicked off a three-day bus tour of Iowa, and Paul Ryan braved the state fair. Although Iowa only has six electoral votes, it is one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds this year. We'll hear more from Paul Ryan in a few minutes. First, here's NPR's Scott Horsley, who's traveling with the president.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: It's raining politicians in Iowa this week, but what the state really needs is some real rain. More than two-thirds of Iowa is suffering from extreme or exceptional drought. President Obama toured a parched farm in the Missouri River valley this afternoon at the start of a three-day campaign trip across the state.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now, folks here in Iowa and across the heartland, we're suffering from one of the worst droughts in 50 years. Farmers, ranchers depend on a good crop season to pay the bills and put a roof over their heads. And I know things are tough right now.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama announced the federal government will buy more than $150 million worth of pork, lamb and chicken to help ranchers who are struggling with high feed costs and trying to cull their herds. But the president said what's really needed, in addition to rain, is for Congress to pass a farm bill. Lawmakers failed to do that before their August recess. The bill's been held up by disagreements over crop subsidies and funding for food stamps.
OBAMA: I am told that Governor Romney's new running mate, Paul Ryan, might be around Iowa the next few days. He is one of the leaders of Congress standing in the way. So if you happen to see Congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to Iowa and our rural communities.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama calls Ryan one of the ideological leaders among House Republicans. And while that's a selling point for conservative voters, it could also be a liability. It gives Mr. Obama an opening to tie the Republican White House ticket to all the failings of Congress.
OBAMA: We've got to put politics aside when it comes to doing the right thing for rural America and for Iowa.
HORSLEY: Polls show Iowa is one of the most closely divided swing states this year. Mr. Obama is running neck and neck here with Republican Romney, despite winning Iowa by 10 points in 2008 and despite the state's relatively strong economy. Even with the drought, unemployment in Iowa is just 5.2 percent.
Mr. Obama hopes to boost his standing in Iowa with this week's bus trip. The president still has plenty of supporters here, including Tom Brooks(ph), a truck driver from Honey Creek, Iowa.
TOM BROOKS: He's tried to do everything he could to work with the Congress, and he's been blocked every turn. I mean, at least he is trying, and it seems like the other side doesn't try at all.
HORSLEY: When it comes to Congressman Ryan and other Republican lawmakers, Brooks shares the president's frustration.
BROOKS: Hold up the farm bill, the transportation bill, his jobs bills he's put through - I think he's been getting the raw end of the deal when it comes down to it.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama was already campaigning against Republicans in Congress, and those attacks will only grow sharper now that Ryan has joined the GOP ticket. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan crafted an economic plan that's similar to Romney's, but more specific in the cuts it would make.
In addition to remaking Medicare and Medicaid, Congressman Ryan's budget would cut spending on transportation, research and education, almost all federal programs except the military. At the same time, Mr. Obama notes, Ryan and Romney have both proposed big tax cuts heavily weighted towards the wealthy.
OBAMA: They have tried to sell us this trickle-down theory before. And guess what, every time it's been tried, it has not worked.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama will be making that case all across Iowa this week. This is the state that launched his presidential bid four years ago. He told supporters today they've come too far to go back now. Scott Horsley, NPR News, traveling with the president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.