ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Jimmy Carter has some advice for Barack Obama as he gears up for the 2012 election: Don’t alienate voters with controversial positions.

The Georgia Democrat told The Associated Press on Tuesday that just about everything he did alienated voters, from sealing a treaty to hand over the Panama Canal to establishing diplomatic ties with China.

Carter said: “If you’re main goal is to get re-elected, avoid a controversial subject as much as you can in the first term.”

Carter also faced Democratic opposition from Sen. Ted Kennedy during his 1980 re-election bid, which he said was a big handicap that Obama won’t have.

The remarks came as Iowa residents cast the first votes of the 2012 presidential race to help determine Obama’s Republican opponent.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.