Starting where Obama's presidency began
04:23 - Source: CNN

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CNN's Richard Quest is traveling across the U.S. for American Quest, which will air from October 29

He has started in Chicago -- the heart of President Barack Obama country

By starting in Chicago, Quest will understand how the faithful view their man

Quest will travel across the U.S., through five states: Two Swing. Two Democrat. One Republican

Chicago CNN  — 

The headline in the Chicago Tribune left no one in any doubt. “Obama Solid in Illinois.”

The latest polls are clear – President Barack Obama will carry his home city and state and scoop up its 20 electoral college votes in his battle for re-election by a large majority. Illinois will vote Democrat, as it has for the past five elections.

Expandable map: CNN's American Quest

Obviously Chicago is amongst the last places to get an unbiased opinion on this year’s presidential race. This is the absolute heart of Obama country. It is the place where Obama lived and taught law. The city where he started his political life, first elected to the state legislature then, in a few short years, honing his policies for national office.

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Illinois is where he announced his run for the presidency. Four years ago, in Chicago’s Grant Park, the new President-elect Obama delivered his victory speech in front of tens of thousands of screaming supporters.

So if this mid-western city is so firmly in the Obama camp, why am I here? What can I hope to learn from a place so biased they should just weight his vote rather than count it?

It is the perfect place to start my American Quest.

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Chicago is the third largest city in the U.S. Here, the buildings rival New York’s in size and beauty. The hardy mid-western people play on the national stage. Chicago is a confident, muscular city whose people need none of the tinsel show-and-tell of the west, nor the power posturing of the east.

Boeing, McDonald’s, United Airlines and Kraft foods are some of the global companies headquartered in the metropolitan area. Here, they make things.

Early today, as I stood by the Buckingham Fountain, just yards from where Obama addressed his adoring base four years ago, the city was at its resplendent best.

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A crisp breeze blew in from Lake Michigan and a rainbow appeared in the fountain’s spray, forming a perfect arc over the magnificent skyline. Chicago was putting on a show of contended bravado.

By starting here, we gauge how the faithful view their man, before we delve into those parts of the country where the doubters, naysayers and downright critics live.

This American Quest will take us from Chicago to the swing states of Iowa and Colorado.

We will sojourn in the strong Romney state of Utah, home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose followers are known as Mormons.

And we will end up in California, a state which even though it will almost certainly vote Democrat, we can learn much of the trends for the future. Five States: Two Swing. Two Democrat. One Republican.

Austan Goolsbee was head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and is now a professor in Chicago’s prestigious Booth School of Business at The University of Chicago, where Obama taught law. He told me we will find many different types of economies as we travel by rail to California.

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Some states, like Illinois, with its wide variety of industries, have rebounded strongly from the recession. At 9.1% unemployment, it is above the national average and amongst the worst in the country. But the state’s mainstay, Chicago, has bounced back. A diverse economy across services and manufacturing has helped insulate it from the severest bite of the economic chill.

As we travel across America, Goolsbee points out that we will see how the rise in commodity prices has benefited other Great Plain states like Iowa, which should benefit the president in this swing state.

Then we will head to Colorado, which Goolsbee calls “ground zero” in the White House race because of its mixture of new business and old. This is where the economy is being reborn through new business like health care and technology.

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But more depressingly, out of the window of our train we will see neighborhoods in Nevada built with more optimism than pragmatism, now abandoned to economic fate and foreclosure. More than half the state’s homeowners are “underwater,” owing more to the banks than their properties are worth.

We will end our journey in California. Lively. Maverick. Trendsetting – and amongst the most diverse states socially and economically. The Golden State’s manufacturing and high tech industries will warrant close inspection.

This journey is more than just about “the economy, stupid” although that is by far the single biggest concern. Expect issues of birth control, same sex marriage, gun laws and more to be on our menu. And throughout we will return to the comfort of our Amtrak train, to muse on our findings as we cross these United States.

When I asked him what he thought of our plan to cross all of these states by rail, Goolsbee said he thought we were crazy. Personally, I can’t wait to see all this for myself.