MT. PLEASANT, Iowa -- From the wood flatbed of a 1978 Ford pickup to a grammar school playground to a garden party where he gulped a gnat by accident, White House hopeful Barack Obama on Tuesday meeted and greeted supporters in this crucial presidential primary state.
"Don't worry, I am going to survive this," said Obama after the bug flew into his mouth and he had to clear his throat.
Sen. Obama had to vie with the Bill and Hill roadshow -- the former president is stumping in Iowa for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama mentioned in his stump speech how he was drawing big crowds at other stops -- perhaps to deflect the thousands drawn to see Clinton campaign for the first time with her husband.
On the policy front:
• A stump line of Obama's -- repeated twice Tuesday -- is the need to increase fuel efficiency standards in cars to 45 miles a gallon. "We would replace the equivalent of all of the oil we import from the Persian Gulf."
• Backdrop: Congress is bogged down in a fight to increase standards to below 30 mpg; Michigan Democrat Rep. John Dingell is battling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over forcing Detroit to bend to raise mpg standards.
On the political front:
• At a stop in Keokuk, Obama framed the argument that he can win the general election because he can grow outside the Democratic base. "One of the things I am really good at," Obama told Hazel Huffman, 80, a retired cosmologist, "is appealing to independents and Republicans."
However, a new national poll for the Cook Political Report concluded that "Obama runs basically even with Clinton among independents who lean Democratic, 27 percent to 26 percent."
For more on Obama's holiday swing in Iowa, see Lynn Sweet's blog at www.suntimes.com.