09/26/2012 08:08 am ET

Obama Talks NFL Refs, National Debt With Des Moines Register

Those who wondered Tuesday why President Barack Obama did not have time to meet with foreign leaders at the United Nations have their answer.

He had to get back to the White House so he could call swing-state newspapers like the Des Moines Register.

The Register's front-page piece on its interview with the president said that Obama called them minutes after landing back at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, following a half-day trip to New York to speak to the United Nations and then to the Clinton Global Initiative.

An Iowa Republican told The Huffington Post that Obama called in just to weigh in on the NFL referees controversy. And the president did that, saying, "it doesn’t make sense to me for a league that’s been so successful not to want to put their very best out there."

But Obama also took questions from the Register's Jennifer Jacobs about what he plans to do to reduce the national debt and whether his foreign policy approach to the Middle East has failed.

“We’re not going to be able to control every aspect” of Middle East conflicts, Obama said. “What we can make sure of is our core interests are protected and that in our interactions with these countries that we’re always upholding our core ideals and our core values,” he said.

Debt is an important issue for Iowans, and under Obama the national debt has grown from roughly $10 trillion when he took office to $16 trillion. Obama admitted to the Register that "the debt exploded under my watch." But he said, "it’s because somebody else ran the tab before I got into office."

Obama said the debt is not a short-term concern because investors "consider us very safe, and they consider us to be among developed countries still the cornerstone of the global economy."

But “over the medium and long term, we definitely have to worry about it,” he said. “We’re on an unsustainable path.” The good news, Obama said, is “the changes we have to make are not by any means radical.”

Obama got a front-page headline out of the interview that read, "Obama says re-election will send message to Republicans."

But Jacobs, known as one of the toughest political reporters in the state, did not give him a free pass in her article, rebutting several of the president's assertions with information from fact checkers and giving space for conservative think tankers and a Romney campaign official to take issue with others.

Obama won Iowa in 2008, but Democrats have been worried about his chances in the state for much of this election cycle. However, recent polling has shown the president beginning to open up a lead. HuffPost Pollster's average of Iowa polls shows Obama's advantage at 48.3 percent to Mitt Romney's 43.7 percent, up from 46.2 to 44.1 percent in early August.



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