SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – One day after delivering an uncharacteristically combative performance at the latest Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney poured on the charm Wednesday for a packed house here.
The Republican presidential candidate drew a crowd of nearly 2,000 -- including Gov. Dennis Daugaard -- to the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner in this city of 153,000.
Surprised by the size of the crowd, Romney joked: “I didn’t realize Sioux Falls was bigger than New York City!”
In contrast to his debate performance the night before, when he duked it out with Republican rivals on a stage in Las Vegas, Romney made President Obama and the city where he lives the focus of his attacks here. "This economy is having a hard time rebooting because Washington doesn’t understand that Washington isn't the answer -- it's the problem," he said.
Romney returned to a story that he told frequently in speeches during his 2008 campaign, about Derek Parra, a speed skater who won gold and silver medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics that Romney managed in Salt Lake City. He recounted Parra telling him that the most meaningful experience of those Olympics was not his victories, but the opportunity to wave the tattered flag that flew over Ground Zero on the day of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Romney’s response, he told the crowd here: “You're telling me that was the most meaningful experience of my Olympics.”
From here, Romney travels to Iowa, where he has three events on Thursday. It is his first visit since August to the state, which has set Jan. 3 as the date for its crucial caucuses. Romney will criss-cross the state, headlining a town hall, an economic roundtable, and a voter meet-and-greet before heading to Oklahoma for a Friday morning fundraiser and speech.