WATERLOO, Iowa — He is looking for the magic again in all these coffee shops and diners. On the farm pasture scorched by drought, on the state fairgrounds where he got the beer and the pork chop he can't stop talking about. In the school library and the local bar, President Barack Obama is coming back to Iowans as if he wants to reconnect with old friends, telling them he needs one more shot.

``This is really where our movement began — here in Iowa,'' Obama tells people jammed into a small middle-school gym in Marshalltown. ``We had a conversation about how we move our country in a direction where everybody has opportunity, where everybody has got a shot.''

``And we know that journey is not done yet.''

Coatless and tieless, an upbeat Obama has spent three days in Iowa this week, his longest sustained campaigning in any one state yet, as he looks to win six of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

He has been speaking and drinking and eating his way through the state — ``Who else wants one?'' he yells to a small group of onlookers at a sno cone stand in Denison — because in Iowa, politics is all about winning over voters one by one, by word of mouth. Obama's higher personal favorability ratings over Republican Mitt Romney also could be a big plus in places like Iowa — especially at a time when voters in the most competitive states are seeing a slew of negative ads daily and as the Republican challenger works to undercut the president's strength.

Four years after the voters here sent him on his way to the White House, he's drawing loud and enthusiastic crowds; a man in the Waterloo one shouts, ``Four more beers!'' resurrecting the cheer from a night earlier at the fair when Obama bought a round. And he seems remarkably at ease for an incumbent president facing a spirited challenge at a time of 8.3 percent unemployment.

Obama, it seems, has been everywhere.

He dropped by the Coffee Connection in Knoxville, where he chatted up the owner, a Republican running for local office. He hit the gym at Aspen Active off Fleur Drive in Des Moines, near his airport hotel. He bought a Bud Lite at a bar in college town Cedar Falls. In Cascade, Obama walked into a high school library where teachers were getting ready for the upcoming school year. ``What do you want me to know?'' he asked, opening up their discussion about education policy for questions.

He made a surprise visit to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, a must-stop for any politician looking for votes. ``I still have pictures of me and Sasha at the fair,'' Obama told one of the fair's organizers after buying an admission ticket and picking up a navy blue state fair baseball cap, emblazoned with this year's slogan, ``Nothing Compares.'' He took a picture with the fair queen, ate a pork chop with his hands and drank a Bud Lite, all while a TV crew trails him for footage in an upcoming campaign ad.

In Dubuque, first lady Michelle Obama joined Obama at a campaign rally for the first time in months. Mrs. Obama asked him if he got a ``fried Twinkie'' at the state fair and then vouched for him, calling him the ``son of a mother who struggled'' and the grandson of a woman who watched as men she trained were promoted ahead of her.

``Your president knows what it means when a family struggles,'' Mrs. Obama said — a not-so-subtle counter to Romney's recent efforts to question Obama's character.

It wasn't all personal touch for the Obamas. There was policy, too, from the president.

He traveled to a parched corn farm in Missouri Valley with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former two-term Iowa governor, to promise to take steps to help farmers. On the front yard of the McIntosh family farm, Obama said the USDA would buy up tens of millions of dollars in pork and chicken to help farmers get through the drought. ``We're not just talking about a few strips of bacon here,'' Obama said.

At a farm in Haverhill, the president gazed at massive white wind turbines rotating in the distance, urging Congress to pass a tax credit for producers of wind energy, an approach that Romney opposes.

Yet, for all the seeming familiarity of this trip, Obama's second dance has at times seemed distant, a big black bus marked with the presidential seal leading a trail of dark Chevrolet Suburbans, vans and police cruisers.

Onlookers watch from their front yards, in front of Casey's General Stores or Dollar Generals, on street corners and from folding chairs. The crowds are rarely rude — this is Iowa after all — but often give off a look of ambivalence, like an electorate taking stock of their options, trying to figure out which way to go.

Iowa voters know Romney from last winter's Iowa caucuses, when he lost to Rick Santorum by a razor-thin margin, and from his first presidential bid in 2008. But they know Obama perhaps better than any group of voters in America.

Still, some Obama backers say they're worried.

Says Justin Owen, a 31-year-old farm equipment salesman from Boone who brought his family to a rally this week: ``The ones who do support the president are very quiet about it.''

Others are more confident.

``I'd almost bet my house that in two months you're going to see Iowa'' in Obama's column, says Cecilia Parks, a retired school teacher from Anamosa, who cheered Obama during Wednesday's rally in Dubuque. ``Obama still has the grassroots here in Iowa. I think in the next couple of months, you're going to see a real surge.''


Obama tells Dubuque that Romney would end Medicare 'as we know it'

Ed Tibbetts at 1:44 p.m.

DUBUQUE, Iowa — President Barack Obama criticized Republican rival Mitt Romney and running mate, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, telling hundreds of people here Wednesday that he’s extended Medicare, but the Republican ticket would turn it into a voucher system and end the program “as we know it.”

The argument over Medicare could be crucial, particularly in Iowa, a swing state with a large number of elderly.

It’s an issue both campaigns are eager to fight over.

Romney’s campaign is running a new television advertisement criticizing the president for $716 billion in cuts to Medicare. The cuts over 10 years will go toward paying for the new health-care reform law and come from a variety of areas, including payments to hospitals and other health-care providers and to private insurers who run the Medicare Advantage program.

The president’s campaign, meanwhile, has released a new video that seeks to tie Romney to Ryan’s budget, which also assumes the same amount of Medicare cuts but assumes the health-care law’s repeal.

Embarking on the last day of a three-day bus trip through the state, Obama directly engaged the issue in front a crowd on this city’s riverfront. He said that his health-care reform law provided seniors with savings on prescription drugs and that it would extend the solvency of the program.

“My plan’s already extended Medicare by nearly a decade,” the president said. “Their plan would end Medicare as we know it.”

The Obama campaign today also pointed to Congressional Budget Office estimates that say the Ryan plan would push more of the cost of health insurance onto seniors.

Ryan has proposed a voucher like system that would give future retirees a premium support payment with which they would buy health insurance coverage from private companies.

How much the president’s criticism on Medicare will stick to Romney remains to be seen.

Romney’s campaign today issued a statement by the candidate saying he is making a “commitment” to restore the $716 billion in Medicare cuts.

That would appear to distance Romney from a major part of Ryan’s budget plan, a key reason for the young congressman’s appeal among conservatives. However, it also could help to insulate him from the president’s criticism.

After the president's remarks, the Romney campaign responded by saying that Obama is "the only person in the race who has actually cut Medicare."

The president also mounted a defense of his health-care plan in remarks that lasted about half an hour, embracing again the term “Obamacare,” which Republicans use as an epithet. As he’s said before, Obama said it fits, because “I do care.”

He said that although Romney may be interested in repealing the health-care law, “the Supreme Court has spoken. It is the law of the land. We are moving forward.”

The president was joined by first lady Michelle Obama, who is taking the last leg of the Iowa trip.

The president and first lady will end the day in Davenport, with a rally in the Village of East Davenport. Only those with tickets can attend. Gates open at 3 p.m., and the event is scheduled to begin at 5:25 p.m.

EARLIER REPORT by Erin Myrphy, Dubuque Telegraph Herald: For approximately 45 minutes, President Barack Obama spoke with a group of about 35 teachers in the library of Cascade High School. It was the first in-service day for teachers, and their first meeting was cut short by the announcement of the president’s arrival.

The news was as exciting as it was unexpected for two of the teachers: Josie Kennicott, who teaches government in her second year on the job, and Rachael Rogers, a social studies teacher in her sixth year.

Last year, when the president gave a speech in Peosta, the two women said, they and others stood off the road and waved as the president’s bus drove by.

“This is way better,” said Rogers, as she and her colleague waited outside along with other teachers and staffers for an opportunity to shake the president’s hand.

Another teacher, Mary Frake, said the president’s visit comes at the tail end of a bond issue passed by the voters recently by what she described as a solid majority to upgrade the high school with an auditorium, lockers and technology to the tune of approximately $14 million.

Inside the library, the president sat casually on a high chair, and after a few remarks regarding the school upgrade and a joke about the alarm which went off, he urged teachers to ask questions and provide suggestions. Asked what she expects of Obama, Frake, the math teacher, said, “Not to end up like Wisconsin.”

EARLIER REPORT: CASCADE, Iowa — The first faculty meeting of the school year at Cascade High School was cut short by a presidential visit.

President Barack Obama, en route to his campaign event in Dubuque, surprised staff at the school late Wednesday morning. Obama thanked the faculty for their work as educators, then held a brief question-and-answer session before leaving for Dubuque.

Outside, even more Western Dubuque Community Schools staff waited to get a glimpse of the president as he boarded his tour bus, dubbed “Ground Force One” by the media.

Michele Meade, a high school science teacher, said their meetings were abruptly cut short and staff began to put two and two together when they noticed Secret Service agents roaming the campus.

“It’s a great experience to share with our students,” Meade said.

Obama was playful with the staff, noting he would take questions from any person except for “the guy in the Packer shirt.”

EARLIER REPORT by Ed Tibbetts: DUBUQUE, Iowa — The last day of President Barack Obama’s bus tour through Iowa kicked off early with a back and forth with Republican Mitt Romney over the future of Medicare, as hundreds of the president’s supporters filed into an outdoor amphitheater here for a midday rally.

The president is traveling to Dubuque from Cedar Rapids, where he overnighted Tuesday and stopped this morning at a diner.

Later, he’ll cap his three-day tour of the state with a stop in Davenport.

The argument over Medicare could be crucial, particularly in Iowa, a swing state with a large number of elderly.

Romney’s campaign is running a new television advertisement criticizing the president for $716 billion in cuts to Medicare. The cuts over 10 years will go toward paying for the new health-care reform law and come from a variety of areas, including payments to hospitals and other health-care providers and to private insurers who run the Medicare Advantage program.

The president’s campaign, meanwhile, released a new video that seeks to tie Romney to running mate Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which also cuts Medicare.

The video also highlights the part of the Ryan budget plan that creates a voucher-like system in which future retirees could buy health insurance from private companies overseen by the Medicare program. The campaign pointed to Congressional Budget Office estimates that say the plan would push more of the cost of health insurance onto seniors.

Jen Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman, said the president would talk about the Medicare issue today and “will lay out the choice between his plan and the Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it.” She said the Ryan plan would cost seniors $6,400 more.

Some independent fact-checkers have said Ryan’s changes to Medicare significantly alter the program, but they’ve said it goes too far to say the plan would “end Medicare.”

Even though Ryan’s budget plan calls for reductions in Medicare spending, Romney said in a statement today that he would restore the $716 billion in Medicare cuts of Obama’s. That would appear to distance Romney from a major part of Ryan’s budget plan, which is one of the reasons conservatives find Ryan appealing.

Local Republicans are picking up the Medicare issue, too.

Here in Dubuque, former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman of Iowa Matt Strawn rallied Romney supporters outside the Obama event saying the president’s cuts would be “a devastating punch to Iowa’s seniors and Iowa’s economy.”

From a pool reporter traveling with President Barack Obama

EARLIER REPORT: Around 10:12 a.m., President Obama left Riley’s, the Cedar Rapids diner where he had breakfast, and turned to his right to shake hands with the impromptu group that awaited him. He was greeted by smiles and handshakes and an occasional cellphone snapshot. He appeared to joke with the locals and spent a couple of minutes talking to a young boy, then moved on to shake hands with all who were close by.

One of them was Emi Chapman, a cancer care coordinator at St. Luke’s Hospital and a mother of two who was there with a couple of nurses. Chapman had just arrived at work after dropping her 10- and 13-year-olds to school for the first day of classes. She said she was surprised to see the president’s detail and later the president himself at her favorite diner.

“I don’t care what your political affiliation is,” she said, referring to seeing the president in person, a first-time experience for her. “It’s the experience of a lifetime.”

She described herself as a registered voter but declined to state her own preferences. She also noted that the most important issue for her in this election is health care, but she stopped short of commenting on her perspective on Obamacare.

Asked whether she thought the president had a nice breakfast, she quipped: “It had to have been. The food there is to die for. The people there know your name as you walk in.”

Chapman said that because she was the only one among her co-workers to have her cellphone on her and therefore the only one able to snap a picture of  this unexpected and brief encounter with the commander-in-chief, her friends expect on her to share the memorable photo with them.

“I can’t wait to tell my kids about it,” she said.

EARLIER REPORT: The bus traveled southeast on 1st Avenue in Cedar Rapids and was greeted by occasional clusters of people who stood by their cars in a couple of parking lots, in the grass area by the road to wave or take pictures with their cellphones. Several mechanics at a car shop on 1st Avenue also waved as the bus went by.

Around 9:27 a.m. the pool stopped by Riley’s Cafe, a neighborhood eatery known for its home-cooked food and the favorite hangout of many of the nurses in the nearby St. Luke’s Hospital. The eatery sported a London-made clock over the door, the long hands of which had stopped at 5:29 in Roman numerals. The two lights on either side of the door were still on despite the bright sun and flashing welcome signs in the window, including a paper sign telling customers they can seat themselves, contributed to the neighborhood feel of the place, which sits next to an Irish bar called Moose McDuffy’s. Inside the vintage decor reflected the same feel.

Obama sat at a table with three people, his shirt sleeves rolled up, relaxed and smiling. He ordered two eggs, hash browns, fruit and orange juice and appeared to joke with the young waitress in a Riley’s T-shirt who took his order.

“Don’t mind these people,” Obama said, turning to the people sitting nearby. “Try to enjoy your breakfast.”

All laughed, including a man in a red shirt who sat at the next table and appeared to use his cellphone to catch snippets of the conversation Obama was having with his table companions.

The president’s visit was a surprise for John and Diane Hohnstein, who frequent the eatery usually on Sundays after church. “We thought it was joke when they said they would have to scan us.”

In the meantime, a group of about 50 spectators gathered outside Riley’s with eyes and ears and cells trained at the door.