DES MOINES – Likely GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney said Friday he would make a better president because the pressing need for economic turnaround is an issue “in my wheelhouse” as a business leader in contrast to President Barack Obama’s “misguided” policies that are impeding job growth and financial rebound.
During a noon-hour forum on a return trip to Iowa that was cut short by a fire alarm, Romney also told more than 200 Iowans who gathered at the State Historical Building that they can expect to see him a lot in the months leading up to next year’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses, but probably not as often as 2007 when he showered the state with time and money that netted him a disappointing second-place finish in Iowa four years ago.
Romney, 64, who will formally announce his 2012 GOP presidential bid next week in New Hampshire, said he expects to run a “lean” and “smart” campaign in committing resources. He said his campaign strategists will decide later how those resources will be allocated to various straw polls like the one Iowa Republicans host in August but he told the midday crowd “I’ll be here plenty and you’ll get to know where I stand.”
The former Massachusetts governor made it clear that his primary message will focus on the economy and what he views as the failures of the Obama administration to create the certainty needed to solidify private-sector business investments and new hirings rather than relying on a European model that relies on government to stimulate jobs and growth.
The key issue for voters in 2012 will be which candidate can get the economy going again and create jobs, he said.
“Right now the issue that Americans are most concerned about happens to be in my wheelhouse,” said Romney, who served in corporate posts and helped steer the successful 2002 Winter Olympic Games. “What I know and what I’ve spent my life doing is particularly relevant right now.”
He contrasted that with Obama’s more than two years in the White House.
“With the economy going down, with tumult in the world, we picked as our president someone with no experience in the private sector, no experience in the economy, no experience in negotiations, no real experience in leadership,” Romney said. “You see, to create jobs, it helps to have actually had a job.
“We picked this president, kind of an experiment to see what would happen if we chose someone without experience to lead the nation, and it didn’t work out real well,” he added.
In the private sector, if you borrow too much, you go out of business, Romney said. Government, on the other hand, has over borrowed and continues to “sort of kick the can down the road” but he said at some point “the piper has to be paid” at that time is rapidly approaching unless the fiscal direction is changed in Washington.
“We’re at a point of time in history where we’ve been borrowing too long assuming that our spending can go on without any wake up call and that’s arrived,” he said, “because, at some point soon, we’re going to hit that wall and the things we rely upon from the government are going to be in trouble.”
Romney, whose appearance was cut short by an alarm triggered by a burnt bag of microwave popcorn, spent time signing autographs and copies of his book and shaking hands outside the State Historical Building until the throng was told to cross the street to clear a path for fire trucks when they arrived.
“Look at us, I feel like the Pied Piper,” said Romney as TV cameras, photographers, reporters, well wishers and curious bystanders followed him across Locust Avenue. “If they keep us from delivering our message in the building, we’ll take it out to the street,” he joked.
One man asked Romney if he gets tired of shaking hands, to which he replied that his grip has gotten stronger over the years that he has run for public office. He told an expectant mother concerned about her children’s future that he shares the same concerns for his 16 grandchildren that America has been in recessions before but this one “is so hard to get out of because the president has done all the wrong stuff.”
Silvia Wiman, a West Des Moines woman who supported Romney in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, said she still likes him and his business background, but she said she wants to “see what everybody has to say” before deciding who she will back in this election cycle.
“The things he has worked in have been profitable,” she said. “The country needs someone like that. Iowa is so strategic that I would hate to see him not go full out in Iowa.”
Retiree Elwood Rafdal of Des Moines said Romney is smart, he’s a businessman, and he even “looks like a president,” but he added “I don’t know if he’s tough enough” to take on the Democrats. He said he voted for the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008 and still likes former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin but doubted that he would participate in the 2012 caucuses.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky welcomed Romney back to Iowa by advising him to “be yourself — embrace your successes and acknowledge your failures.”
“Because you paved the way with health care reform in Massachusetts, we were able to pass the Affordable Care Act which has helped thousands of Iowans get quality, affordable health care,” Dvorsky said in a statement. “We all know that you opposed President Obama’s bailout of the auto industry which helped American automakers get back on track and saved thousands of jobs, but don’t try to rewrite history now that it’s a proven success — admit you were wrong and learn from your mistakes. Iowans don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to look them in the eye and have an honest discussion about your past and your plans for the future.”
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