President Obama issued a federal disaster declaration for the state of Iowa Wednesday after the Republican presidential candidates and their entourages, along with thousands of political consultants and journalists, abruptly abandoned the Hawkeye State after Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum finished in a virtual tie in Tuesday's GOP caucuses.
Acting at the request of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Obama warned that Iowa faces "an economic meltdown" that could force it into bankruptcy unless emergency disaster relief funds are made available to help the state's media outlets, hotels and motels, charter airplane companies, car rental agencies and restaurants and bars recover from the sudden loss of millions of dollars in revenue.
"This is the worst natural disaster to hit any state since Katrina," Obama told reporters at the White House. "Tens of thousands of hard-working Iowans, from Algona to Ames, from Cedar Rapids to Council Bluffs, from Muscatine to Mason City, from Osceola to Ottumwa, from Pocahontas to Pella, face financial ruin as campaign signs are torn down, miles of TV cable are removed, and Candy Crowley and Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer check out of their motels."
Worse yet, Obama said, is the demoralization of Iowa Republican voters, who suddenly realized, after being courted and coddled by the party's presidential candidates and having their political opinions eagerly sought by nationally recognized journalists like Chuck Todd and Dan Balz, that their opinions are no longer important.
Quoting Marvin Abercrombie, a hardware store owner in Grundy Center, Obama said, "He told Janet Napolitano that he feels his life is over. He said no one cares who he's going to support, and Rick Santorum won't even return his phone calls."
Clem Bisenius, owner of the Sleepy Time Motel in Whittemore, told CNN's Gloria Borger that he'll probably have to close up shop and go back to farming. "Andrea Mitchell of NBC and her entire crew stayed here last week when Rick Perry spoke at a rally, and she wanted to bring her husband, Alan Greenspan, back with her someday, but I think she was just being nice."
Meanwhile, the Rev. Elmer Gantry, pastor of the Evangelical United Lutheran Church in Le Mars, said Romney promised to invite him to the White House if he's elected, but wouldn't even give him his telephone number in New Hampshire. "I might just have to support Ron Paul, even if he believes that Barack Obama and the Devil are brothers," he said.
Iowa's senior Republican senator, Chuck Grassley, also registered his unhappiness, declaring that Michele Bachmann "probably was just leading me on when she told me that if I supported her, I'd be her running mate."
Gov. Branstad, meanwhile, criticized the GOP candidates for failing to warn Iowans that they would longer occupy center stage as the 2012 campaign moves on to New Hampshire and South Carolina and other key states. "They should have told us they would turn their backs on us as soon as the caucuses were over," he said. "It's enough to make me want to support Donald Trump."
Romney, for his part, made it clear he was happy to leave Iowa after failing to win a decisive victory. As he departed for New Hampshire Tuesday night, he said, "I'm sick and tired of all those maniacs from Mason City, those fruitcakes from Fort Dodge and those hicks from Hiawatha asking me what I think of global warming, ethanol and healthcare. I'm outta here!"
David Yepsen, the veteran former Des Moines Register political reporter and once the most influential journalist in Iowa, was philosophical about the candidates' hasty departure.
"As Iowa goes, so goes the nation," he said. "Just ask Mike Huckabee and Mike Dukakis."