Mitt Romney, the first of the Republican presidential candidates to step up to the old-fashioned soapbox at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday, faced hecklers who forced the slightly frazzled candidate to shout to make his point: He won’t raise taxes on corporations to sustain the Social Security or Medicare programs.
Faced with non-stop chants of “Wall Street Greed!’’ Romney shot back: “Hold on a second!’’ he said repeatedly. “You want to raise taxes? Great! That’s your right.
“Corporations are people, my friend,’’ he added, a remark quickly seized on by national Democrats to suggest the former CEO of an investment firm cares more about the wealthy business class than about ordinary middle-class Americans.
Romney mostly kept his cool with the unruly fairgoers, and the crowd appeared to appreciate his no-new-taxes pledge.
His appearance at the fairgrounds on a cloudless blue sky served as a prelude to Thursday night’s formal debate broadcast on FOX News. Most of his rivals will deliver speeches from the soapbox on Friday, giving them an opportunity to reinforce their messages from the debate and recover from any gaffes.
They may compete for the media’s attention with former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, whose allies confirmed Wednesday that she’ll make an unexpected stop at the Iowa State Fair, setting off a new round of speculation about her possible White House ambitions. In a statement to Sarah PAC supporters, Palin passed off the apparent campaign stump as merely a stop along her One Nation bus tour route since “state fairs hold a special place in our nation’s history and heritage.” But her timing is curious: The tour's last stop was June in the first primary state of New Hampshire, where she overshadowed Romney’s official campaign launch.
One of the busiest weeks in the race so far continues Sunday with a showdown between the current front-runner in Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and the man who might pose her biggest challenge to winning the Hawkeye State, still-undeclared Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Each is scheduled to speak Sunday evening at the Black Hawk County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner, in Waterloo, the Iowa town where Bachmann was born.
Casually dressed Thursday morning in a navy polo shirt and khakis, Romney reminded the crowd at the fair that he was a businessman long before he was governor of Massachusetts “for only four years.’’ With polls showing recession-weary voters furious with government officials across the board, it’s no surprise that Romney is downplaying his one term in office.
“We’re led by a man who’s a fine fellow but he’s out of his depth and doesn’t understand how the economy works,’’ he said. “I have spent my life in the private sector.’’
Romney spent most of his remarks talking about the need to create jobs, though he spoke briefly about the federal deficit. In contrast to most of the business sector, Romney opposed the deal signed by President Obama to raise the debt ceiling and avert an economy-rattling default.
“He’s the only one who can straighten this out,’’ said retired farmer Bob Rieks of Story City, who was sporting University of Iowa Hawkeyes cap. “He’s a businessman.’’
His wife, Marilyn Rieks, said she briefly contemplated supporting Tim Pawlenty “but then he kind of faded.’’ Her husband chimed in, “He didn’t grab me either.’’
Romney wound up his talk with an ode to American patriotism. “One way we show it is when the national anthem is played, we put our hands over our hearts,’’ he said. A campaign spokesman said he was not referring to a photo of Obama widely circulated by his critics during the 2008 campaign to suggest he was less than patriotic.
Lindsey Boerma and Alex Roarty contributed.