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In Iowa, Obama (again) defends administration on economy

DES MOINES, Iowa -- President Obama returned to the state where his quest for the presidency began, hosting a backyard discussion Wednesday where he defended the steps his administration has taken to get the economy back on track.

The event at the home here before a crowd of 70 locals marked the third stop on his four-state campaign tour aimed at energizing his Democratic base ahead of the November midterm elections, just five weeks away. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie were also in attendance at the discussion, as the president sought to spell out the difference between his party's approach to the country's problems and the Republican Party's approach, especially when it comes to helping the middle class, which he called "the beating heart of our economy."

He said the November election represented a choice between Democrats and a party that was offering "the same policies that from 2001 to 2009 put off hard problems and didn't really speak honestly to the American people about how we're going to get this country on track over the long term."

To illustrate his point, Obama said the GOP's focus on retaining costly tax cuts for the rich did not make sense coming from a party purportedly concerned about the deficit.

"You can't say you want to balance the budget, deal with our deficit, invest in our kids and have a $700 billion tax cut that effects only 2% of the population," he said.

The president has spent the past two days stepping up his rhetoric against the opposition in the hopes of inspiring people who supported him two years ago to head back to the polls.

After speaking for a few minutes about his administration's accomplishments, the president took questions from the group assembled under the shade of enormous trees in a spacious backyard here, addressing topics like the challenges young college graduates are facing finding jobs, the high cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care and small businesses.

Such free-wheeling and wide-ranging discussions have been relatively rare in recent months, but the administration believes this more intimate setting helps the president to better connect with voters. At one point in the morning question-and-answer session, the president was asked why he was pressuring China to let its currency gain value by a small business owner who believed doing so could hurt American businesses.

"The reason I'm pushing China on their currency is because their currency is undervalued," he said. "I think people generally think that they are managing their currency in ways that make our goods more expensive to sell and their goods cheaper to sell here and that contributes -- that's not the main reason for our trade imbalance -- but its a contributing factor."

Obama held similar backyard events in Albuquerque, NM, on Tuesday, in Fairfax, VA, last week and in Columbus, OH, last month. Later on Wednesday, the president heads to yet another backyard in Richmond, VA.

The trip to Des Moines followed a stop last night at the University of Wisconsin, where a rally drew more than 26,000 people, according to campus police. At that event, the president warned what would happen if young people allowed apathy and disappointment to keep them from the polls, all but ensuring a Republican takeover of Congress.

"I need you fired up," he told the crowd. "We need you to stay fired up, because there is an election on Nov. 2nd that's going to say a lot about the future -- your future and the future of our country."

The White House is betting events like the college rally and the backyard discussions the president has been holding will help recapture the magic of a campaign that defied all expectations by drawing thousands of new voters into the political process.

"The biggest mistake we could make right now is to let disappointment or frustration lead to apathy and indifference; that is how the other side wins," Obama told the Madison, WI, crowd. "Make no mistake: If the other side does win, they will spend the next two years fighting for the very same policies that led to this recession in the first place, the same policies that left the middle class behind for more than a decade, the same policies that we fought so hard for to change in 2008."