Romney Makes First Iowa Stop After Huckabee Bows Out of Presidential Race

Mitt Romney shrugged off an interruption from a building’s fire alarm as he made his first presidential campaign appearances of the year in Iowa today, exploring a more robust presence in the state after Mike Huckabee said he won’t seek the 2012 Republican nomination.

“I’ll be back in Iowa a number of times before the contest is complete,” Romney, 64, told reporters outside an agricultural software company in Ankeny, Iowa. “As to the tactics of the campaign and where you devote your financial resources and time resources, that’s something we’ll figure out as we go along.”

The visit comes less than two weeks after the announcement by Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor who won Iowa’s Republican caucuses in 2008. His decision not to vie for the chance to challenge President Barack Obama creates a political opening for other Republicans in the state that holds the nation’s first nomination contest.

It wasn’t a flawless first visit for Romney, who was interrupted by a blaring fire alarm near the end of an appearance at the State Historical Building in Des Moines.

“Oh, oh,” Romney said, as the alarm started going off. “I wasn’t trying to get out of tough questions, I promise.”

The alarm kept starting and stopping, so Romney advised people to exit the building.

Charred Popcorn

“I’ll take my message to the street if I need to,” he later joked outside. Radio Iowa reported that the culprit was burned popcorn inside the building.

Before he was interrupted, Romney said he thinks he has a chance of winning the caucuses, scheduled for Feb. 6.

“I’d like to win if I could,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “But in the final analysis, I want to win that final race and say to Mr. Obama: you’re a nice guy, we like you, you have a lovely family, and you have done your best. But frankly, it’s time for somebody who understands how this country works.”

In his 2008 bid for the Republican nomination, Romney finished second to Huckabee in the Iowa caucuses, where 60 percent of the party participants described themselves in entrance polls as born-again or evangelical Christians. Romney hasn’t been a natural fit for that group, given his Mormon faith and past support of abortion and gay rights.

Straw Poll

Even as he campaigned among Iowans today, Romney stopped short of fully committing to an all-out campaign in the state, including participation in the Iowa Straw Poll in August. The carnival-like political event sponsored by the state party is designed to test the organizational ability of presidential candidates.

“We’ll give that good consideration,” he said of the straw poll.

Romney won the 2007 straw poll after spending $2 million on television ads and busing thousands of supporters to the balloting where he fed them barbecue, handed out yellow “Team Mitt” T-shirts, provided musical entertainment and bought their $35 admission tickets.

Whatever his effort in Iowa this campaign, Romney praised the state’s importance in the nomination process.

“I think you’ll see everybody who is intent on sitting in the White House coming to Iowa and spending time here, debating here, and just how we do that will probably be defined over time by different candidates in different ways,” he said. “But I’m here and hope that I will be able to build on the goodwill of a number of my friends from last time around and hopefully add some more friends this time.”

Medicare Issue

Romney told reporters he supports the House Republicans’ budget plan, authored by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, that would end Medicare as a government health-care plan for the elderly.

“I applaud Representative Ryan for putting a plan on the table that acknowledges that Medicare can’t go on like it is without ultimately hitting a wall,” he said.

Romney, though, declined to say whether he would sign the legislation into law if he were president. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, another Republican presidential candidate, said this week that he would do so.

“That’s the kind of speculation that is getting the cart ahead of the horse,” Romney said.

Ethanol Aid

Pawlenty, in his presidential announcement speech, called for an end to federal subsidies for ethanol production, money that benefits Iowa farmers by creating more demand for corn. Romney said today he supports the aid program.

“Ethanol subsidies allow that industry to get up and running and that’s something which I support,” he told Fox News.

Romney’s campaign said yesterday he will formally announce his candidacy on June 2 in New Hampshire, the second state in the nomination calendar and one where he is better known because of his past role as Massachusetts governor.

In remarks pointed at Romney this week, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, cautioned against skipping his state.

“I do think it’s important to compete here and maybe you don’t have to win, but doing relatively well -- and he’s considered the national front-runner -- so I think being in the top three is important in Iowa,” Branstad told reporters.

Nationally, Romney received the largest percentage of support among the field of potential Republican candidates in a Gallup poll released yesterday. He was supported by 17 percent of the Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the poll, which was taken May 20-24 and has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Romney today pledged to return to campaign regularly in Iowa.

“You’ll see me more than you like,” he said. “I’ll be here plenty.”

To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Des Moines, Iowa, at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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