For the first time since an obscure campaign stop for John McCain right before the 2008 elections, Mitt Romney returned to Iowa. The former governor of Massachusetts visited Des Moines and Ames yesterday to promote his new book, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.”
There is no doubt that Romney wanted to sell some books yesterday, but it’s also safe to assume that he was gauging the interest Iowans have in a second run at the presidency. In addition to his two book tour events, Romney also lunched with former campaign workers and early supporters at Proof restaurant near the Des Moines library.
The noontime event held at the Des Moines Public Library was well attended. A crowd of 200 or so turned out hear Romney. His visit was part of the library’s AViD (Authors Visiting in Des Moines) series.
The event was opened by brief remarks from Democrat Mayor Frank Cownie who introduced Des Moines City Councilwoman Christine Hensley who then welcomed Romney. After Romney made a joke about global warming, Mayor Cownie exited the room. Cownie attended an international climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark late last year.
Dressed in a pair of Levi blue jeans, Romney’s speech was light on substance and long on stories about mistaken identities. He told a story about being mistaken for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. He also talked about an incident at the Beijing Olympic where he thought people were taking his picture, but people were in fact taking a picture of Kobe Bryant who was sitting behind him at the time.
Romney also talked about how companies take on the personalities of the people who founded them. One example he gave was Virgin Airlines, a quirky company that was founded by an eccentric businessman, Richard Branson. Romney also concluded that nations emulate their founders and current political leaders. He then criticized the direction politicians have taken America.
Romney also shared some startling facts about our economy. He said Americans spent $14 trillion dollars on goods and services last year. He then said that, with the current rate of spending, the United States would have an $18 trillion debt in just ten years.
While Romney’s speech and attire indicated that this wasn’t a campaign event, the placards with his name on it told a different story. The event was also staffed by a group of College Republicans, all of whom were wearing Romney “No Apology” t-shirts.
The crowd that greeted Romney would seem to indicate that a second run for president would be well received in Iowa. If Romney does run again and campaigns hard in Iowa, he will have advantages this time around that he didn’t have in 2007 and 2008. He is well known and has former supporters he can quickly reengage.
Iowa was a frustrating place for Romney in the last presidential campaign. On one hand, it gave birth to his presidential campaign and frontrunner status. On the other hand, his support waned as the caucuses approached. If Romney runs in 2012, the Iowa Caucuses might be his biggest roadblock.
Recently, Romney has admitted that his 2008 campaign should have focused more on the economy and fiscal issues. In 2007, Romney pandered to the social conservative crowd who make up the base of the Republican Party in Iowa. It was a strategy that only worked until Rudy Giuliani and John McCain focused their attention on states other than Iowa.
Romney was haunted by a number of flip-flops on issues like abortion in the lead-up to the First-in-the-Nation caucuses. While he will still take criticism on those issues, Romney is also going to take a lot of heat on the healthcare reform package he signed into law as Governor of Massachusetts. One potential presidential opponent is already openly criticizing Romney on healthcare.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty told a New Hampshire paper this week, “The plan is dramatically propped up by federal money. Take that away, and there would be dire economic consequences. Looking at the Massachusetts experience, it would not be one I would want for the country to follow any further.’’
In Iowa, Ed Failor Jr., President of Iowans for Tax Relief, also indicated that Romney’s healthcare program could make things difficult for him in 2012. Failor made those comments in an interview with Fox News yesterday. Failor said, “When he goes into people’s kitchens and stands on people’s porches…he’s going to have to explain the difference [between the Massachusetts plan and President Obama’s plan].” Iowans for Tax Relief is holding an event next month in which Governor Tim Pawlenty is the headline speaker.
Romney defended the Massachusetts model last night in Ames. “Overall, ours is a model that works,’’ Romney said in response to a question after a speech at Iowa State University. “We solved our problem at the state level. Like it or not, it was a state solution. Why is it that President Obama stepping in and is saying ‘one size fits all’ ’’?
For most of 2007, Romney had Iowa to himself and could quietly organize his Iowa campaign. He will not be allowed that opportunity in 2012. Whether or not Iowans are ready for an unapologetic Romney is yet to be seen. Other presidential candidates like Lamar Alexander, Pat Buchanan, and John Edwards have not fared well in their second attempts at running for president.
The one thing that we do know is this. Iowa will not be an easy place for Mitt Romney to campaign in if he does run for president. We can see evidence of that in the comments that Ed Failor, Jr. and Governor Pawlenty made recently.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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