UPDATED WITH COMMENTS FROM DEMOCRATIC CHAIRWOMAN SUE DVORSY:
CEDAR RAPIDS – Making his first campaign appearance in Linn County in more than six months, Mitt Romney said he is the candidate with “the best ideas for the nation” and is the Republican best able to defeat President Obama and turn around the nation’s economy.
“I will be best able to post up against the president if we’re talking about the economy,” he told someone who asked why he would be the better able than his GOP rivals to debate Obama. “I understand the economy, not just as an academic, not just as a politician, but as someone who has worked in the economy.
He has a record of successful leadership, Romney said at a town-hall style meeting at Diamond V in southwest Cedar Rapids Dec. 9. “Both businesses were successful. The Olympics were successful. My state was successful.
“I will be able to demonstrate a record of leadership,” he said. “The capacity to lead is what we need in America.”
That record of leadership seems to be what Republicans are looking for as they begin to make their choice for a 2012 presidential nominee, according to former Linn County GOP Chairman Mark Hudson.
“We need someone to turn this economy around,” Hudson said. Romney’s leadership, experience and ideas “resonate here in Linn County because of what we’ve been through” – the 2008 floods and the economic downturn, he added.
Eastern Iowa Republicans are excited to see Romney back on the campaign trail, Hudson said. The visit is what they need to get energized in the final weeks of the caucus campaign.
“We’re excited to see him here, to see an old friend,” he said.
Iowa Democrats, who have criticized Romney for not campaigning in Iowa, said Friday he’s trying to buy a victory in the caucuses.
“The Romney campaign has raised expectations for caucus night; anything short of a win will be a major blow,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky. “But despite the obvious importance, today is only Romney’s fifth trip to the state this year. While he’s been willing to invest money in Iowa, he has failed to invest his time meeting with Iowans and answering their tough questions about his rhetoric and his record.
“Romney should have learned last time, he can’t just buy his way to victory,” she said. “This is Iowa and we are first in the nation for a reason – because Iowans take seriously the task of vetting candidates, looking them in the eye and asking the tough questions.”
That’s what they did on the warehouse floor at Diamon V, a grain processing firm that ships nearly a third of its products overseas.
After Romney spoke for about 10 minutes, audience members asked him about immigration, Social Security, Medicare, education, terrorism, climate change and taxes.
He made only passing references to his rivals, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who has surpassed him in Iowa and national polls. Instead, he peppered his remarks with criticism of Obama, who, Romney said, “doesn’t really understand America.”
“He means what he says when he says he wants to fundamentally transform America,” Romney said. “There’s nothing wrong with America that needs transforming. I want to restore America. I want to turn around America. I want to keep America America.”
Dena Baethke of Cedar Rapids backed Romney four years ago, but hadn’t made up her mind – until Friday.
“He has the right ideas because of his business experience,” she said after hearing Romney. “Anyone who thinks the government can take our money and spend it better than us is crazy.”
Terry Larson of Cedar Rapids was at the event “to get a handle on our options.” She’s looking for a pro-life, small government, conservative.
“I’m here in person to see if he is genuine,” said Larson, who said she has gone online to research the candidates.
As she was leaving, Larson said Romney’s still on her short list, but she hasn’t made up her mind.
“It made me more curious,” Larson said.
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