MUSCATINE (AP) — Iowa’s toss-up status in the presidential race has made it a frequent stop for candidates, and the state has become even more popular since early balloting began last week.
Ballots are already in the hands of more than 247,000 Iowans who requested them by mail. Voters have turned in about 43,800 of the ballots, with Democrats leading Republicans in submitted ballots by a ratio of about 3-1.
With many more ballots set to stream in, candidates are heading to Iowa to make another pitch to voters.
Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan was making stops Tuesday in Clinton, Muscatine and Burlington. The Republican also held an event Monday night in Dubuque.
On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden will be in Council Bluffs.
“There are a lot of fence-sitters wanting to know more and to hear the message from the actual candidates,” said Michael Gaeta, 58, who owns an insurance agency in Muscatine and attended Ryan’s speech in that city.
Gaeta guesses that as many as 10 percent of the voters still want to hear from candidates so they can confirm the way they’re leaning toward voting.
“We like to look in that candidate’s eyes and see where their soul is,” he said of Iowa voters.
Both Ryan and Biden have been frequent visitors to Iowa. So have President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“The problem is we’re in a mess,” Ryan said Tuesday to about 350 people during an outdoor event in front of the Des Moines County Republican headquarters in Burlington. “Look at where we are right now. It’s not going the right direction.”
Steven Maher, 65, a retired middle-school civics and social studies teacher who was also at the Muscatine stop, said he’s already decided to vote for Romney but wanted to hear Ryan speak in person. Maher hoped for specifics about the Republicans’ plans to strengthen Medicare and provide jobs.
“I also want them to tell us that they are bringing integrity, honesty and high standards into the presidency because that is always important to me,” he said.
Gaeta said he’s concerned about the number of early voting ballots and the hard push by the political parties to get ballots in circulation.
“I have concerns about the integrity of that system,” he said.