(For more campaign coverage, go to ELECT.)
Nov. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney returned to Iowa today amid increasing signs he intends a more aggressive effort to compete in the state’s caucuses that start the voting for the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and business executive, is focusing more on Iowa after signaling during most of this year that he wouldn’t make an all-out push to win the caucuses on Jan. 3.
His appearances today, in counties he won in his failed 2008 bid for the Republican nomination, follow Iowa visits by him last month and mark his fourth trip to the state this year.
“You guys were helpful to me last time around,” Romney said to an audience in Dubuque. “I expect you to be helpful to me this time as well.”
The stop, at a metal fabrication shop, was the first of two scheduled for Romney today. Wearing jeans and a blue plaid shirt, his backdrop as he spoke to a midday audience of about 150 people was a large Iowa silhouette that had been carved out of steel with “Romney” cut into its middle.
Romney, following the script that has marked his current campaign, focused his fire on President Barack Obama rather than any of his Republican rivals in the presidential race. He told his listeners that the U.S. economy will remain stagnant should Obama win a second term in 2012.
“This huge overhang of foreclosures will continue and you can expect housing values to stay extraordinarily poor,” he said. “If President Obama is re-elected, you can expect more trillion dollar deficits and perhaps a very significant risk that America will face the kind fiscal crisis and calamity that you’ve seen in Europe.”
While Romney spotlighted Obama in his speech, his campaign in the past week has run automated telephone messages in Iowa that accuse Texas Governor Rick Perry of aiding illegal immigration. Those messages, along with underscoring Romney’s newfound interest in Iowa, suggest that he views Perry as his biggest challenger there. Romney, 64, also dispatched one of his five sons to Iowa to campaign for him in his absence.
Perry, 61, has begun airing TV ads in the state; Romney hasn’t.
Before Romney’s event today, Perry aides issued a news release criticizing him for skipping a candidate forum in Iowa last week on manufacturing issues.
“Mitt Romney regulated Massachusetts electric supplies by capping carbon emissions, and now he’s trying to regulate his political risk in Iowa by capping his exposure to tough questions,” Ray Sullivan, a Perry spokesman, said in a statement. “Given that Romney has visited the state just four times in 2011, he should take this rare opportunity to finally give Iowans clear, honest answers about his support for job- killing carbon caps and his ever-changing views on climate change.”
Jeff Walker, 57, a semi-retired small business owner who lives in Dubuque, said he came to the event because he is considering supporting Romney in the caucuses.
“I’m here out of curiosity,” he said. “I’m more conservative than he is socially.”
Social conservatives, who turn out in large numbers in the Republican caucuses, four years ago balked at Romney’s past support of abortion rights and the Massachusetts health-care law he signed. Many of these social conservatives have yet to rally around a contender in the current campaign, creating the prospect that they could divide their support among several candidates and create an opening for Romney to do well in the January contest.
With just five paid campaign aides in Iowa, Romney’s presence is a shadow of what it was four years ago, when he poured $10 million into the state and employed dozens of staff members.
Still Romney has kept in touch with business leaders in the state and joined in periodic conference calls with party activists.
A poll conducted by the Des Moines Register and released Oct. 29 showed Romney and businessman Herman Cain in a statistical tie for first place among likely Republican caucus attendees. Other recent surveys also have shown the two vying for the lead in the state.
The surveys were taken before the reports of the sexual harassment complaints during the late 1990s against Cain, 65, surfaced last week. Another complaint surfaced today, this one from a woman willing to identify herself publicly.
Sharon Bialek, speaking at a news conference in New York, said Cain groped her in 1997 after the Washington-based National Restaurant Association had let her go and she was seeking his help in finding a new job.
Cain was the restaurant group’s chief executive officer at the time. Cain’s campaign immediately issued a statement calling Bialek’s allegations “false,” and denying “all allegations of harassment” against Cain.
Romney made no mention of the furor surrounding Cain during his remarks in Dubuque. In his speech, he said his goal is for television screens across the nation to flash “Mitt is it,” on election night next November.
As president, “I want to go to work to make America once again the most attractive place in the world, the most prosperous place in the world, for middle-income Americans,” he said. “I’ll make sure that America is the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, for investors, for business and for job growth.”
Romney also reprised details of a budget-cutting plan he announced last week, saying he would cut $500 billion in federal spending during a first term in office, including money for Amtrak rail travel and some arts programs.
“My test for the federal government is this: Is this program so critical, so important that it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it,” he said. “We can’t keep buying and spending and passing on debts to our kids, and I’ll stop it by killing programs.”
In Romney’s failed 2008 bid, he made a concerted effort to win the caucuses and ended up finishing second to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a showing that helped derail his candidacy.
If Romney were to win the 2012 caucuses, followed by a victory in the New Hampshire primary a week later, it would put him in a strong position to win the party’s nomination. Romney, who owns property in New Hampshire and is well-known from governing a neighboring state, has led polls in that state all year.
--Editors: Don Frederick, Jim Rubin.
To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Dubuque, Iowa at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.