Even so, the economy looms large, especially among farmers who seem to regard their good fortune as being stamped with an expiration date. Many remember the disastrous 1980s when land values plummeted, banks closed and the thwack of the farm auctioneer's gavel was heard with heartbreaking regularity.
Matt Danner, part of a five-generation farm family that has worked the same land in this area for more than 120 years, was just a kid then but says he still recalls watching grown men cry at farm sales. At 33, he says this probably is the best time to farm he's seen in 15 years.
"It takes 10 good years to fix the five bad ones of the '80s," he says. "It's going to go the other way. It always does. There's plenty of history to prove it's not going to last long."
Ranniger, who farms 240 acres of corn and soybeans about 15 minutes from Carroll, is just as wary.
"I look at it our time has finally come," he says. "But I can't help but remember worrying about paying loans back in the '80s" when his family skipped vacations for a decade and he'd patch a tire rather than buy a new one. "I was bound and determined to make it work. Tradition, I guess."
He, too, wonders about the future. "You have to ask yourself, 'What if this doesn't last?' Then we're in the same boat as the rest of the country."
Like the rest of the country, he and others in this pocket of west-central Iowa worry about national issues — government spending, health care and debt, which was at or near the top of voters' concerns in polls conducted before the Iowa caucuses. Branstad, who waged a comeback in in 2010 for a fifth term 12 years after leaving office, made it a theme of his campaign. Romney mentioned it in a recent Iowa campaign appearance.
There are critics here of federal bailouts, particularly Obama's decision to help the auto industry.
"Government needs to stay out of more things rather than infuse itself in more things," says Mike Beardmore, a county supervisor whose stance might seem unlikely since he's a Chrysler salesman. Though the automaker was on the brink of collapse before the government rescue, he's convinced it would have survived, maybe with an investment from China or another foreign country. Beardmore also thinks the move won the president political points.
"I think Mr. Obama went to bed saying I've got to do something to save these jobs," he says. "I don't think he was laying his head on the pillow saying I've got to appease the unions. I think that was a side benefit."
At the same time, there are supporters here of the president's stimulus plan and other efforts to jump start the economy.
"I would say Obama and his staff stepped up and made some tough decisions and put some money out there and kept things moving," says Drees, the contractor who says up half the projects he's worked on in recent years involved federal funds. "I was happy to see someone actually try to stimulate the economy with low interest rates, instead of waiting until more damage was done."
And there are folks on both sides of Obama's health care overhaul.
"The criticism I hear is they (the government) can't run a post office, they can't run our retirement, they shouldn't be able to run our health care," says Mark Nepple, manager of the local Bomgaars, a general merchandise store.
But others like the general premise of the program.
"I think 50 years from now when people look back ... Obamacare will be viewed as the start of something that was the right thing to do in our country," says Jeff Scharfenkamp, a city council member and president and CEO of Carroll County State Bank. "The system is not perfect by any means but ... you've got to get something out there."
These divisions reflect the political difference in a county that went for Obama in 2008 by about 3 percentage points. The local newspaper, the Daily Times Herald, has written positively about the president on its editorial pages as far back as December 2006, with a piece, "Why Barack Obama Can Win the Iowa Caucuses."