Romney Returns To Iowa

fromWOI

Mitt Romney has made far fewer visits to Iowa in 2011 than he did during his first run for the GOP nomination four years ago. Friday, Romney appeared in Cedar Rapids, just weeks ahead of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

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Mitt Romney was also in Iowa today. His campaign has spent the past several days on the offensive against Newt Gingrich. As Iowa Public Radio's Kate Wells reports, the former Massachusetts governor is facing a bigger challenge than he planned.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: Remember when Mitt Romney wasn't supposed to really need Iowa?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, Tom. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

WELLS: Well, just over three weeks from the caucuses, what he needs is for Newt Gingrich not to sweep the early-voting states. So out comes the Romney family.

ROMNEY: My wife of 42 years, Ann...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ROMNEY: ...almost 42 years...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: ...and Josh, my middle son, we have five boys.

WELLS: In campaign stops and TV ads, the Romneys are taking center stage. It has the effect of reminding voters of Gingrich's multiple marriages and infidelities. And for this pro-Romney crowd at a mill in Cedar Rapids, it's working. Gay Conlan says she has a serious character issue with Gingrich.

GAY CONLAN: I would not ever support him. I remember him from years back. And I just don't think he's trustworthy. I know he has lots of good - lots of ideas, let's put it that way. But I don't know how good they are. And I just don't think he's the man for this job.

WELLS: But things have changed since the last time Romney made one of his rare stops in this state. Now, even among Romney fans, the man on voters' minds is the former speaker of the House. The crowd asked several Gingrich-related questions, from his take on Congressman Paul Ryan's Medicare plan to why Romney would be the better debater against President Obama.

ROMNEY: A couple of things. One, in debating, there's coming up with the best answers and the best zingers. And number two, there's being able to communicate to the people of America that you're a leader. And the leadership matters.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And I think I've got the best ideas for our nation.

WELLS: And Romney took an indirect dig at Gingrich's frequent references to his background as a historian.

ROMNEY: I understand the economy not just as an academic, not just as a politician, but as someone who has worked in the economy for 25 years or more.

WELLS: Romney is steadily ramping up on the offensive. He released an anti-Gingrich ad this week. And a pro-Romney Super PAC is snapping up more than $3 million worth of Iowa airtime for TV and radio spots. Their worry isn't just that Romney could disappoint in Iowa, it's that Gingrich could take his momentum from here onto New Hampshire, then South Carolina and so on.

DR. DENNIS GOLDFORD: The biggest danger to his campaign for the nomination is that Republicans finally coalesce around an alternative to Mitt Romney.

WELLS: Dennis Goldford is a political scientist at Iowa's Drake University. He says Romney's increasing focus on Iowa shows he's getting nervous about Gingrich.

GOLDFORD: I think the best thing that Mitt Romney can do in the state of Iowa at this point is to take some of the wind out of Newt Gingrich's sails. What his main goal, I think, from a strategic standpoint is to make sure that nobody comes out of Iowa who might be an alterative to Mitt Romney with a particular head of steam.

WELLS: For Romney, winning Iowa is less about finishing first and more about keeping the primaries from becoming a two-man race. For NPR News, I'm Kate Wells in Iowa.

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