If unemployment was the only factor driving this presidential election, Mitt Romney would not be spending much time campaigning in Iowa, where the agricultural economy is relatively healthy and the unemployment rate is a 5.2 percent, the lowest of any battleground state.
But spending and debt are big issues in the American heartland, too. And that's why Romney spent time in Des Moines this week, delivering a speech decrying excessive government spending.
It was concern over federal spending that brought the tea party movement into existence in 2009, and it's an issue that hasn't gone away. It's also what is behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's momentum in next month's gubernatorial recall, with a deficit-conscious GOP base showing high levels of enthusiasm.
When pollsters ask voters to cite their most important issue, the catch-all "jobs and the economy" comes first. But the number of voters naming the deficit rose in 2010 and has remained largely constant, and the issue is driving conservatives to the polls. It's also a way for Romney to criticize President Obama on the economy in states that haven't suffered the brunt of the downturn.
Although New Hampshire is another place with a solid economy, it's receptive to Romney's small-government message. Indeed, the Republican National Committee held a conference call featuring former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu and former Rep. Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire to decry Obama's record on debt and deficits.