Obama, Romney hold dueling rallies in Iowa

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each campaigned in Dubuque on Saturday, seeking to fire up supporters and make their final pitches to undecided voters in battleground Iowa.

The president and his Republican challenger brought dueling messages, chants and celebrities to Dubuque in events that were a few hours and miles apart. The stops in the city of 58,000 along the Mississippi River showed how hard both campaigns were trying to win Iowa and neighboring Wisconsin, another battleground state whose residents attended both events.

Romney arrived first, with his campaign plane pulling up at an airport hangar where hundreds of supporters had gathered at noon. The crowd roared with applause as he and his wife, Ann, stepped off the plane. Romney promised during a 20-minute speech that he would do a better job of managing the nation’s economy than Obama had.

“I know most of you here have decided who you are voting for in three more days. But you have some neighbors who haven’t made up their minds yet,” Romney said. “I want to make sure I give you all the arguments you need to make sure you convince someone to come over and vote for our team.”

Before Romney spoke, NASACAR team owner and legendary driver Richard Petty urged the crowd to dump Obama because “it’s not been a good four years.” The partisan crowd chanted, “three more days!”

The candidates were competing to win over voters such as A.J. Paradiso, 25, a welding shop employee who stood in line for Romney’s event. He said he was drawn to Romney’s event first to see Petty “and then, I’m here maybe, possibly to see the next president of the United States.”

“I’ll give Romney a shot,” he said. “I haven’t made up my mind, but he could sway my vote.”

Paradiso said he also wanted to see Obama’s rally with rocker John Mellencamp at a city park Saturday afternoon, but he worried that “downtown is going to be a zoo” as a result of road closures and traffic.

He was right. Even before Romney’s plane left the airport, thousands of Obama supporters started forming a line that snaked through downtown for several blocks as they waited for the president. They chanted “Four more years!” before Obama took the stage at Washington Park.

Obama said he’d kept his promises to end the war in Iraq, expand health insurance, kill Osama bin Laden and allow openly gay soldiers to serve in the military. He said Romney’s presidency would return the nation to the “top-down economics that crashed our economy.”

“What he’s selling, we tried,” Obama said. “It didn’t work. We’re not going back.”

He told supporters to knock on doors and “turn out the vote for me” on Tuesday.

Mellencamp had warmed up the crowd, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing his hits, including “Jack and Diane” and “Small Town.”

“The middle class needs to rise up and be strong. Let’s let them rich pay more than 14 percent,” Mellencamp said, a reference to Romney’s income tax rate.

While undecided voters were the prize, mostly faithful supporters of the candidates attended the events. Obama noted that many of his supporters had already voted in Iowa thanks to early voting.

Elections officials say about 40 percent of the electorate in Democratic-leaning Dubuque County has voted early, and more cast ballots at a downtown office annex Saturday.

Some Dubuque residents went to see both candidates, saying they wanted to witness history. They included Olivia Griffin, an education major at the University of Dubuque who had already voted for Obama but waited in line to see Romney with her boyfriend’s family anyway. She had a ticket for the Obama event later Saturday.

“When else are you going to get a chance to see both candidates in one town in the same day?” she asked. “It’s going to be fun.”