In his second visit to Iowa, Mitt Romney was heckled at the Iowa State Fair by crowd members he dismissed as non-supporters.
As members of the audience began chanting “Wall Street greed” today, Romney vowed not to raise taxes on anyone -- including businesses.
“Corporations are people, my friend,” he said. “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people.”
After a shouting match with another questioner who asked what he would do to strengthen Social Security, Romney pointed angrily at the audience and asked them to let him answer.
“My guess is they won’t be voting for me. That’s fine,” he said, before stepping off a small speaking podium. “We have a lot of people running for office.”
Romney went to Iowa to participate in a Republican presidential primary debate tonight. Though he leads the field in polling and fundraising, Romney has spent little time or money in the state, which will hold the first caucuses of the 2012 presidential nominating process. Romney’s defeat in the 2008 Iowa caucuses set his first presidential bid on a downward spiral.
He has run no television ads in Iowa, hired only three paid staff members and won’t participate in a straw poll on Aug. 13, an event on which he expended considerable resources in 2007.
At the Fairgrounds
Still, the former Massachusetts governor isn’t writing off Iowa. After speaking this morning, Romney made his way through the fairgrounds, shaking hands and greeting potential voters. He grilled a pork chop at the Iowa Pork Producers Stand, a traditional activity for the many White House contenders who visit the fair every election cycle.
“I imagine you’re going to see more of me from time to time,” he told a group of Iowa business leaders gathered in Pella yesterday. “I’d like to do darn well in those caucuses.”
That low-key attitude marks a stark change from the 2008 election, when Romney poured $10 million and much of his time into Iowa. He lost after the socially conservative voters who dominate the state party’s caucuses took issue with his past support for abortion rights and a Massachusetts health-care law when he was governor.
This time he has focused his efforts largely on New Hampshire, where he owns a vacation home, while keeping his efforts in Iowa alive largely through a network of volunteers.
“What he learned is that he didn’t have to spend all that money in Iowa,” said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University in Ames. “If Iowans or Iowa Republicans play the card they did in 2007, they’re looking for the most socially conservative candidate.”
The expected entrance of Texas Governor Rick Perry into the race could force Romney to intensify his efforts in Iowa.
Perry has a strong appeal to the same Tea Party activists and social conservatives forming the base of support for Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, who was in a statistical tie with Romney in the most recent Des Moines Register Iowa Poll. If Romney can beat Bachmann in Iowa, he would head into the New Hampshire, South Carolina and other primary contests strengthened.
“If Perry were to win here, it would be hard for Romney to stop his momentum,” said Doug Gross, an Iowa Republican who ran Romney’s 2008 statewide campaign and is unaligned now.
Romney declined to comment on Perry’s qualifications for the presidency.
“I think I’m the right guy to be the Republican nominee for president,” Romney told reporters in Pella. Perry is “a fine man and a fine governor, and the record of Texas, I think, speaks for itself.”
Through his campaign, Romney has largely aimed his attacks at President Barack Obama and the administration’s economic policies, while touting his own experience in the private sector as chief executive officer of private equity firm Bain Capital.
In Pella, Romney criticized Obama for a bus tour he plans through Iowa next week and predicted the president would lose the state in the general election.
“He won’t carry Iowa because Iowans will recognize that his presidency has failed,” he said. “He is not up to the task of leading the country at a time of economic crisis, and that’s what we have.”
Taking on Romney
Republican candidates have been eager to take on Romney. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. has criticized him for a lack of leadership on the debt ceiling debate. Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has questioned his credentials on social issues such as abortion. Romney aides anticipate that he will face even tougher attacks during tonight’s debate.
Democrats, too, are beginning to take aim at Romney. Less than an hour after his comments at the state fair today, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz released a statement questioning his priorities.
“It is a shocking admission from a candidate and a party that shamelessly puts forward policies to help large corporations and the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class, seniors and students,” she said.
Romney argues that his business background makes him the most qualified for the presidency, as the economy struggles to come out of the deepest recession since the 1930s.
Voters, he said, are “going to look to me as someone who understands how the economy works and how to get it back on track.”
That message could help him overcome his liabilities among socially conservative Iowa voters, says Gross.
“Because of the times, the dominant issues are economic ones. They’re not social,” he said. “Romney, if he’s smart, he’ll get in here and capture those issues for voters.”