WASHINGTON — Inserting his voice into a big night for Republicans, President Barack Obama appealed to Iowa Democrats Tuesday during the first balloting in the GOP presidential campaign, seeking to counter months of withering criticism in the state that launched his presidential ambitions four years ago.

Obama told party activists in a live video teleconference that because of their support, the Iraq war ended, a major health care reform bill was signed into law and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays ended.

“Because of you, because of all the memories I have of being in your living rooms, meeting you in a diner or seeing you over in a campaign office, I have never lost that same source of inspiration that drove me to embark on this journey in the first place,” Obama told Democrats attending precinct caucuses.

Obama outlined his progress during the first term and asked party activists for their help as Republicans made their first step toward choosing a challenger. Beyond its early voting status, Iowa was expected to be hotly contested in the November election.

“We’re battling millions of dollars of negative advertising and lobbyists and special interests who don’t want to see the change that you worked so hard for to fully take root,” Obama said.

“The problems that we’ve been dealing with over the last three years, they didn’t happen overnight and we’re not going to fix them overnight,” he said. “We’ve been making steady progress.”

Obama wasted little time getting back in front of voters following a Hawaiian vacation spent largely out of the spotlight.

He will travel to Cleveland today for an event focused on the economy.

The president used the video teleconference to talk directly with voters, an approach that encountered some audio problems during the short speech and question-and-answer session.

Obama was seeking to counter months of pounding by Republicans in Iowa and by the Republican National Committee, which has assailed Obama’s economic record and tagged him as a president who has failed to live up to lofty expectations.

“Three years later, the president’s promises of hope and change have been replaced with a record of failed leadership and policies that have made the economy worse,” RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.

Iowa has switched its support in each of the past three elections, supporting Obama in 2008, Republican President George W. Bush in 2004 and Democrat Al Gore in 2000.