The first-term senator from Illinois has been stuck about 20 points behind front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in national polls and appears to be lagging even in South Carolina, a key early primary state, despite its large proportion of black voters, whom he is counting on there.
So he spent two days this week in Iowa angling to catch up. Iowa's caucuses four months from now make it the first state to choose party presidential nominees. Polls there show Obama within five points of Clinton and within three of former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a frequent visitor since his 2004 run.
''I know that many of you are still shopping for a candidate,'' Obama told about 300 residents of Maquoketa, population 6,100, who gathered at a park on Thursday morning to hear him. ``But it's September now. You can feel that little chill in the air. It's time for us to really make some decisions.''