DES MOINES – GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney told Iowans Wednesday he has the best chance of defeating President Obama in the 2012 election because he can go “toe to toe” with him on the economy as a proven turnaround business executive and someone who will slash federal spending while moving Washington from partisan bickering to cooperation and collaboration.
To bolster that resume during his fourth campaign visit to Iowa, Romney brought along Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who endorsed the former Massachusetts governor and called him “the right person” with the experience in private-sector business and government to tackle the nation’s massive debt problems, balance the budget, and create jobs while easing tax and regulatory burdens at a critical time in the nation’s history.
Romney told more than 300 employees at Nationwide Insurance company that he would work to “get rid” of Obama’s health-care reform immediately upon taking up residence at the White House, and he would set about to find $500 billion in federal spending cuts each year. He would start by cutting federal employment by 10 percent via attrition and link federal employees compensation to private-sector standards so taxpayers weren’t paying public servants more than they’re getting paid for doing the same work.
Romney said he likes the National Endowment for the Arts and the Amtrak passenger rail service, but he would eliminate the taxpayer subsidies they currently receive and “expect them to stand on their own feet.”
“Every program I look at I apply this test: is this program so critical and this subsidy so important that it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it –knowing that I’ll never pay it back, my generation will never pay it back, it’s going to get passed onto our kids and to there,” he said. Romney also advocated turning the Medicaid program and the money to fund it over to the states to allow them to better manage it according to their respective needs.
Thune, a former U.S. House member who now serves on the Senate’s agriculture, nutrition & forestry, budget, commerce, science & transportation, and finance committees, considered a 2012 presidential bid but chose not to compete. He joined a growing number of national Republicans throwing in with Romney – a list that includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former 2012 rival Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“Mitt Romney has shown throughout his life in the private sector, as leader of the Olympics, as governor and in this campaign that he will not back down from difficult challenges,” Thune said. “His plans to revitalize the private sector and restore our country’s fiscal health are drawn from his 25-year career as a conservative businessman.”
Romney, who spent $7 million on Iowa airwaves and built an enormous statewide organization but finished second in Iowa’s 2008 caucuses, has taken a different tact this election cycle in a lead-off state where social and religious conservatives are influential forces in GOP politics.
The ex-Massachusetts governor who has Midwest roots has spent limited time in the Hawkeye State but backers expect him to ramp up efforts in the next six weeks – an effort that likely will include return trips by Romney, his family members and surrogates like Christie or Pawlenty, said West Des Moines Republican Mary Kramer, a former state legislator and U.S. ambassador to Barbados who is backing Romney again in 2012.
“I expect we’ll see a lot of activity,” said Kramer.
“I think they know what they’re doing,” she said. “I think strategically Gov. Romney felt that he and his supporters in Iowa are well acquainted. We learned to know each other and trust each other in the last go around and feel comfortable with that. What’s most important to me is that I think he understands how to handle and how to turnaround big organizations and that’s what needs to happen in Washington.”
David Kochel, an Iowa Republican consulting the Romney campaign, said the former governor is well known in Iowa and had not had to spend the time in the state that other candidates have had to commit here. “This has been our strategy all along,” he said.
Democrats marked Romney’s return to Iowa by criticizing his opposition to payroll tax cuts proposed by Obama and what they considered to be Romney’s “anti-middle-class agenda.”
U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, and Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky contended that while Romney “supports more tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” he opposes payroll tax cuts which adds up to $1,500 for the typical Iowa family. In a debate earlier this year, Romney called the payroll tax cut a “temporary little Band-Aid” yet his own economic plan would only give average families in Iowa a $54 tax cut, they said.
Iowa Democrats used Romney’s visit to unveil a Thanksgiving meal menu “where everything is served two ways” – a leaflet designed to illustrate how the former Massachusetts governor has “flip-flopped” his positions on climate change, the flat tax, health care, the auto industry bailout, economic stimulus efforts, and payroll tax cuts, party officials said.
Dvorsky said Romney’s Iowa visit provided an opportunity for Democrats to provide “a clear contrast” between the GOP frontrunner and Obama.
“He is shockingly out of touch,” she said during a teleconference with Iowa reporters.
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