DES MOINES, Iowa -- On a lazy summer day, Iowa became the epicenter of American politics, testament to the critical role it may play in November in determining the shape of the new House and Senate, and its position as the state that will begin the presidential nominating process in 2004.
As Iowans gobbled cotton candy and lined up for the big tractor pull at the Iowa State Fair, the politicians argued over the issue that has become central to the midterm elections: the state of the economy. President Bush continued to offer words of encouragement about the struggling economy.
"We might hit a bump in the road, but that road's going to smooth out and people are going to have the economic security they want here in America," he said. "We're not going to rest until the security is throughout the entire country."
Bush didn't have the political arena to himself. Two potential rivals for the White House in 2004 -- House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. -- also worked the fairgrounds on behalf of Iowa Democratic candidates -- and themselves.
Gephardt, campaigning alongside Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, dismissed the Waco, Texas, economic forum Bush held yesterday and called for more than promises. "I thought it was a great PR exercise and a spirited defense of the president's economic policies, and I don't think that's what we need," Gephardt said. "What we need is an honest appraisal of what's happening and then coming together between the parties and between the Congress and the president on a new policy."
Bush arrived after a stop in Wisconsin campaigning for Gov. Scott McCallum.
Leiberman arrived at the fairgrounds shortly after Bush departed and picked up where Gephardt had left off. Campaigning for Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), he called the Waco event "more of a valley than a summit."