Romney Stops By Iowa State Fair, Gets Heckled

The Iowa State Fair opened this week, and it provides the backdrop for two major political events in the state: Thursday's GOP presidential candidate debate and Saturday's straw poll. At the fair, the candidates get the chance to engage with voters and eat deep-fried novelties on sticks.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT: This is Debbie Elliott. Mitt Romney might not have grabbed the spotlight in last night's debate, but earlier yesterday he was the main attraction at a more up-close and personal kind of event -the Iowa State Fair.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts): Guys, how you doing?

ELLIOTT: Looking tan and relaxed in a blue golf shirt, Romney was the opening act at the Des Moines Register's soapbox, a gathering place for candidates to make short speeches and engage with voters. Romney spent most of his time on the stump taking aim at President Obama's economic policies. The former Massachusetts governor said he opposed raising taxes on people to balance the federal budget, opening a testy exchange with liberal activists in the crowd.

Mr. ROMNEY: One is we could raise taxes on people. That's not the way...

(Soundbite of crosstalk)

Unidentified Man #1: Corporations! Corporations.

Mr. ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend. We could raise taxes on--

Unidentified Man #1: No, they're not.

Mr. ROMNEY: Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMNEY: Where do you think it goes?

Unidentified Man #2: It goes into their pockets.

Mr. ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. OK. Human beings, my friend. So number one...

ELLIOTT: He told one questioner if you don't like my answer, you can vote for someone else. The sparks were out of character for the usually composed Romney, and longtime fairgoers say the exchange was also out of character for the normally polite crowds sitting on hay bales listening to the stump speeches.

Mr. RON EVANS (Retired Physician): We're not all that way.

Ms. LINDA EVANS: We're not all that way. I mean, that is obnoxious.

ELLIOTT: Linda and Ron Evans are from Urbandale. While they didn't like the contentiousness of the moment, Ron Evans, a retired physician, was impressed with the way Romney handled it.

Mr. EVANS: He can take the heat. He took everything they threw at him and he came back with a good, solid response.

Ms. EVANS: Yeah, I apologize. I think Iowa's better than this. This reminds me of Washington, D.C., and this is the heartland. We should not act like this.

ELLIOTT: National Democrats were quick to portray Romney as defending the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. While they were sending out the news release, Romney was eating pork on a stick at the fair.

It seems you can find just about anything on a stick at the Iowa State Fair, and most of it is fried - fried Oreos, fried Snickers, fried bananas, even tiramisu dipped in chocolate and deep fried. Mickey Nelson says that's all part of the tradition here.

Ms. MICKEY NELSON: Fabulous. It takes better on a stick. Everything tastes better on a stick. They used to have the beer on a stick. I don't know if they do anymore.

ELLIOTT: Today she's in line to try the newest delicacy.

Ms. NELSON: We need some butter, fried butter on a stick, please.

ELLIOTT: I didn't see Mitt Romney in the line, but I did recognize someone.

DON GONYEA: Wow. There is a stick of butter in there. You see that?

ELLIOTT: Yep. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea, a veteran of Iowa politics and concoctions at the state fair.

GONYEA: It's not bad. Very cinnamon-y. Tastes like a cinnamon pastry. Well, now the butter is cold, and I just ate like a teaspoonful of kind of raw, cold butter.

ELLIOTT: So there must be a political lesson here.

GONYEA: You can go too far with an idea.

ELLIOTT: Candidates, take note.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Ames, Iowa.

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