Mitt Romney struck a classic front-runner pose on Monday, ignoring his rivals for the GOP nomination and arguing that the nation’s future will be imperiled if President Obama is reelected.
“This is a critical time for us. I don’t want to wake up a year from now and turn on my TV and have it say ‘President Obama reelected.’ Because I know what that means. It means a weaker America,” Romney said, speaking to about 200 people at a sheet metal manufacturer. “I want to see a new president take America in a great tradition and a new tradition, one that makes America the best place in the world to be middle-class again, and I will be that president.”
The swing through eastern Iowa marks Romney’s fourth visit to the state. That’s a small sliver of the amount of time he spent here in his unsuccessful 2008 bid, when he barnstormed Iowa and spent millions here, raising expectations so high that his second-place finish in the caucuses was an embarrassing blow to his campaign.
While Romney has been low-key, his campaign continues to quietly build support here before the first-in-the-nation caucuses, which are less than two months away. It recently hired more paid staff, and on Monday, it collected contact information from all who attended the event.
Romney and beleaguered businessman Herman Cain lead the polls here, and the evangelical voters who dominate the caucuses have yet to coalesce behind a candidate, creating an opening for Romney that many did not believe existed a few months ago, and explains why he appears to be stepping up his efforts here.
Eastern Iowa, which is less rock-ribbed conservative than other parts of the state, was a bright spot for Romney in 2008, which he acknowledged Monday.
“You guys were helpful to me last time around. I expect you’re going to be helpful this time as well,” he said. “Planning on it.”
Romney, wearing a blue plaid shirt and jeans, spoke for less than 20 minutes, and took no questions from either voters or the news media. If elected, he pledged to make government “simpler, smaller and smarter” and to reduce federal spending by $500 billion by the end of his first term.
“Unlike a lot of people in Washington, I believe that deficits matter. I believe one of the reasons we’ve had such a hard time getting the economy going again is because of the huge deficits being racked up by this president and politicians in Washington,” Romney said. “I will slay the deficit beast. It’s killing jobs, it’s shadowing our future and it’s keeping our kids from having the prospects they deserve.”
He said he would reduce spending by repealing Obama’s signature healthcare law, eliminating programs that are not vital, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, and sending safety-net programs such as Medicaid to the states.
The message swayed Mike Paar, 57, of Eldridge.
“I was on the fence, but you may have changed me,” he told Romney after the speech.
Paar, who was just hired to be a government sales manager at a steel company in Dubuque, said he was debating between Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain.
“He was solid on the issues that I care about,” Paar said.