Mitt Romney speaks at the Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport, Iowa, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidates are making a last push in Iowa ahead of the Jan. 3 caucuses.
Mitt Romney speaks at the Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport, Iowa, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidates are making a last push in Iowa ahead of the Jan. 3 caucuses. Becky Lettenberger/NPR
Mitt Romney returned to Iowa Tuesday night, his sights set on a top-two finish next Tuesday in the state's Republican caucuses and his aim focused exclusively on President Obama.
In the packed ballroom of the Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport, Iowa — with scores of people unable to get in lining the carpeted hallways outside to listen — an increasingly confident Romney again essentially declared the race for president to be between him and Obama, and between Obama's vision of an "entitlement society" and his of an "opportunity society."
It's a campaign message Romney unveiled in a recent speech in New Hampshire.
Though dinged by critics as curious coming from a wealthy scion of an auto industry executive and product of Harvard and Wall Street, Romney doubled down Tuesday on the entitlement vs. opportunity message.
Aided by a teleprompter (without mentioning the technology, he told the crowd he wanted to be sure to get his words "just so"), Romney portrayed the coming presidential election as one to that would "save the soul of America."
Critics aside, Romney knows his crowd.
During interviews with likely Republican caucus-goers Tuesday at a Newt Gingrich event in Dubuque, Iowa, and at Romney's Davenport stop — the first of his four-day bus tour in the Hawkeye State — Iowans repeatedly expressed their desire for a president they perceived as, in their words, "pro-American."
"I want to hear some strength, I want to hear some pro-America strength," said Kay Modglin of Davenport, an undecided likely GOP caucus-goer, as she and her husband waited in the crush for Romney to speak.
Romney, ignoring both Gingrich's new "moderate Mitt" attacks and everyone else in the Republican presidential field, served it up, harking back to Obama's appearance in Davenport four years ago during which the then senator from Illinois closed his speech by declaring it was "our moment, our time."
"Mr. President," Romney said, "you've had your moment. This is our time."
Pat Stopulos, 64, of Davenport, said he found Romney's speech a "Reaganesque, upbeat, positive view of America."
A Davenport insurance agent, Stopulos, who is leaning toward voting for Romney in the caucuses, said he "didn't get goosebumps" from the speech.
"But I don't need to get goosebumps," he said. "He was pretty straight-forward, and has the best chance of winning" against Obama.
The days leading up to Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential contest Jan. 3, and the New Hampshire primary that follows a week later have provided a blueprint for a prospective Romney campaign against Obama: no words Tuesday evening in Iowa about his GOP caucus rivals, but a full-on attack on the president and the "hope and change" message that propelled Obama to the White House, starting with a 2008 Democratic caucus win in Iowa.
Romney, an unsuccessful presidential candidate that same year, has enlisted GOP heavyweights including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and South Dakota Sen. John Thune to hit the Iowa campaign trail for him this week.
His campaign has invested more than $1.1 million in Iowa advertising. An outside group has invested $2.85 million in Romney's Iowa effort, the Des Moines Register reported Tuesday. Which may have caused some in Iowa who have watched Romney running for president for going on six years pause at the beginning of his speech in Davenport.
After being introduced by his wife, Ann, Romney insisted that he's a reluctant candidate, only persuaded to run by his wife. Pragmatic Iowa caucus-goers are also open to persuasion, but on that assertion, it will take some more convincing.