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Romney’s slow commitment in Iowa doesn’t spell disaster — yet


Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s return to Des Moines was short-lived, though not by Romney’s or his supporters’ desires.

Thirty minutes after taking the stage in his first Iowa visit this year, a fire alarm sounded off in the Iowa Historical Building, forcing an evacuation. The cause was later believed to be a bag of popcorn that burned in a microwave.

“I promise I’m not trying to get out of tough questions,” the former Massachusetts Governor joked.

About 300 people attended Romney’s meet and greet Friday in the capital city. Most appeared enthusiastic about the former Governor’s return, and told Romney after the event they would like to see a businessman like him in the White House.

Romney seemed to think his work in the private sector is what would make him a strong presidential candidate in the 2012 election, even more so now than almost four years ago, when the economy was in less of a state of fluctuation.

“If you want a vibrant economy, you want the entrepreneurs to have a profit, and you don’t want government to take that away, because than it’s harder for economy to thrive,” Romney, a former private business CEO, said.

Drawing on his years in the private sector, including leading Bain & Company and Bain Capital, and serving as chief executive of the organizing committee for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney said his experience will draw the nation out of financial crisis if he chooses to run for — and later win — the presidency.

“With the tumult in the world, we picked a fine time to pick a president with no experience in the private sector, no experience in the economy, no experience in negotiating and no experience in leadership,” Romney said, referring to President Barack Obama. “We picked this president like an experiment, to see what would happen if we picked someone without experience, and it didn’t work out well.”

Though the recession has been characterized as over, Romney pointed out job recovery is “the slowest since (President) Herbert Hoover (was in office),” with 20 million Americans either out of work or looking for work, and house foreclosures are still at an all-time high.

“(Obama’s) agenda failed because he doesn’t understand how the economy works,” Romney said.

Like other prospects, including U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn), the former Governor gave heavy indications that he will enter the presidential race, and soon.

An announcement regarding Romney’s 2012 race will be made this week in New Hampshire — a decision that appeared to draw scorn from some of Romney’s Iowa supporters, who thought he should have cut to the chase and announced his decision Friday.

“These are lean times, and so we’ve got a more lean campaign,” Romney told the crowd, though he intends to “do everything in my power to be successful in this race and to win it. I’ll be here plenty and you’ll get to see what I stand for.”

But unlike other candidates or prospects, Romney has sent mixed signals about how strong that intention is in Iowa. He visited Iowa twice in 2010, and Friday was his first visit this year. On Friday, Romney also would not confirm if he will participate in the August straw poll in Ames and the February 2012 caucuses — both which can carry weight for a candidate’s success later on in the campaign.

Romney won the GOP straw poll in 2007, and came in second to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the 2008 caucus.

“As for which trips we do, well, that’s for the political people to decide,” Romney said. “I’ll wait until after I announce to decide (to participate), so right now I can’t tell you which things (my campaign) will participate in.”

Mixed signals may not spell disaster, top in-state political analysts are saying, citing Sen. John McCain‘s (R-Ariz) less-than-stellar third place finish in the 2008 Iowa caucus and ultimately garnering the Republican nomination.

“The straw poll in Iowa is about meeting or beating expectation,” Dr. Tim Hagle, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa, said. “Strategically, if you come here to compete and do poorly, your later campaign potential is going to be different. So with Romney, if he comes to Iowa and finishes third, that’s going to be a blow, even going into into New Hampshire.”

Iowans have noted Romney’s absence, particularly as other candidates like former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, and prospects like Bachmann, became familiar faces in the last several months. Earlier this month, Gov. Terry Branstad warned it would behoove Romney to woo the Hawkeye State.

With the social and religious Conservative vote up for grabs after Huckabee bowed out earlier this month, the gap in the Republican party is becoming more prominent — and something candidates are recognizing.

“Gov. Romney is in a tough position,” Dr. Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University, said. “The straw poll and caucuses are stacked toward people on the social and religious Conservative side of this election,” Goldford noted. “It’s just not promising ground for Romney’s campaign and his focus on economy.”

What Iowan voters may consider risky to a presidential campaign is more strategy than anything, both Goldford and Hagle concurred.

“I think he wants to finish respectably in the straw poll, but I think he wants to do it in a way that’s less risk to him,” Goldford said. “It’s all a calculation of political risk in Iowa.”

Hagle said he was surprised Romney did not immediately hit the Iowa pavement harder upon hearing Huckabee was sitting 2012 out, but added “it seems to be a political strategy.”

Meanwhile, some of Iowa’s top GOP donors are continuing their efforts to convince New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie into entering the race, according to reports in The Des Moines Register. Christie stated last fall he has no intentions of running for president in 2012.

Romney met with supporters for several minutes after the Historical Building evacuated, eventually climbing into a light-colored sport utility vehicle en route to Cedar Rapids, where he had other scheduled appearances Friday.

Born in Detroit and raised Mormon, Romney is the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney. He holds Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration from Harvard University’s law and business schools.

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