WILLIAMSBURG, Iowa — In Iowa, a rural state of outsized political importance, retired nurse Pauline McAreavy is among thousands eager to vote against President Barack Obama after four years of disappointment.
McAreavy holds a personal grudge against the president that dates back to 2008, when she hosted Obama's supporters for three weeks in the Midwestern state that nurtured his improbable White House dreams.
She never got a thank you note for her small role in helping land Obama in the White House, but McAreavy's antagonism goes deeper, the product of broken promises and accumulated disillusion with the "hope" promised by the man who has billed himself an "adopted son" of Iowa.
"Obama gave us this 'no red, no blue state' America," said McAreavy, 78.
"I was fooled, I kick myself everyday," she said. "I said: 'In four years I'll get you buddy -- and I'm going to.'"
Her home lies in the state's Iowa County, where residents gave exactly the same number of votes to Obama and his Republican rival John McCain in the 2008 elections: 4,173 votes each.
The Obama campaign is hoping that Iowa voters will reject his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who failed to win the Iowa caucus nominating contests in either of his two presidential runs, in 2008 and 2012.
But McAreavy is among many voters in midwestern Iowa -- which kicks off the presidential nominating contests every four years -- who have abandoned their allegiance to Obama's platform.
Their lack of support, revealed in two dozen interviews with Iowa County residents, is at the heart of the president's challenge in seeking a second term in what has become a very tightly contested White House race.
Sweeping in front of her house in Williamsburg, McAreavy recalled how she had thought Obama would bring a politically divided country together and that electing the first African American president of the United States would be "wonderful" for this country.
"He didn't, he tore us more apart. I did feel maybe the world didn't like America, but the world hates us more now than they did before!" she said.
The Obama boat is leaking.
Many voters who chose Obama last time around are quick to vent frustration over the discrepancy between what they had hoped from a historic Obama presidency and what actually transpired. Almost no McCain voters, meanwhile, seem ready to cast a ballot for the Democrat.
Even if Obama wins the state of Iowa and the entire election this year, the victory will be narrow and will lack the sweet taste of 2008.
Back then, Obama got 54 percent of vote in Iowa against 44 percent for McCain. But in this race, no poll gives him more than 51 percent, and Romney is only two points behind, on average.
"I don't think he pulled Congress together enough to do something. He's not a leader," said McAreavy.
"He's more worried about his reelection. It infuriates me when after what happened in Libya, he went to a fundraiser in Las Vegas."
Even the president's supporters -- and there are still legions of them -- are gloomy. Many cite Republican control of the House of Representatives and its sizeable contingent in the Senate as extenuating circumstances. All search for excuses.
"Every election it's the lesser of two evils," said Williamsburg librarian Carol Uhlmann, a 72-year-old registered Democrat.
"In Afghanistan, why can't we get out now? Why are we over there and all those little situations if we're not being directly attacked?"
Inside the Williamsburg Public Library, a woman playing with a young girl has already decided not to vote for Obama, like she did four years ago.
"I'm going to go with the change," said the woman, who would only give her first name Ann.
That evening, Romney addressed supporters just an hour's drive away, while Obama gave a campaign speech in Davenport 80 miles (130 kilometers) to the east.
"This is where it all began four years ago -- on your front porches, in your backyards. This is where the movement for change began," he said. "And Iowa, you will once again choose the path that we take from here."
But disenchantment with Obama is not the only factor explaining Romney's impressive climb up the polls, as the Republican steadily builds his base of support while softening his public image.
Romney was not the first choice for Sarah, an 89-year-old Lutheran, because he is of Mormon faith.
But she has grown accustomed to the him thanks to repeated campaign appearances that are a tradition in Iowa, which likes to see its candidates up close, shake their hands and look them in the eyes.
Sarah said she became especially comfortable after seeing Romney's large family -- he has five sons -- on television.
And she is far from being alone. National polls by the Washington, DC-based Pew Center show that Romney's favorability ratings jumped from just 37 percent in July to 50 percent in October.
Even young people, among Obama's most ardent supporters in 2008, appear disillusioned.
Sam Tracy, who delivers beer in Marengo, said he plans to abstain from voting, disgusted by the political impasse in Washington.
In 2008, the registered Independent proudly cast a vote for Obama in an election that made the history books.
"Based on what we were coming from, there was a lot of enthusiasm for Obama, but now that he's in office, the shine has worn off," Tracy said.
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