Mitt Romney Storms Iowa Ahead of Straw Poll

While many presidential candidates marched in Independence Day parades in Iowa, Republican Mitt Romney walked in four. Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses may be six months away but Romney has his focus on an even earlier contest: the state's straw poll.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm John Ydstie sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

A lot of the presidential candidates were on the march yesterday in Fourth of July parades, a lot of them in Iowa. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney walked in four parades there. Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses may be six months away, but as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, Romney has his focus on an earlier contest.

(Soundbite of music)

INA JAFFE: Apparently just about anyone is welcome to march in the Fourth of July parade in the central Iowa town of Waukee. Trailing after the high school band were decorated cars and trucks from the fire department and local clubs, charities and businesses. On foot was former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts): Hey, guys. How you doing? I'm running for president, by the way.

JAFFE: Romney was shaking hands with parade watcher Charles Heinan(ph), who, as of that moment, became a supporter.

Mr. CHARLES HEINAN: Anybody who comes like this, goes out, you know, shaking hands, that's who I like.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HEINAN: That is a big thing. Back to the old politics, the way they used to do it, you know, way back when I was young.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: Just before joining the parade, the Romney campaign held an ice cream social for supporters and the curious, all of whom were well fed, ready and waiting when the candidate arrived.

(Soundbite of applause)

JAFFE: He sounded like someone who's been spending a lot of time in Iowa when he spotted Allan Hall Baker(ph), a tall man in bib overalls and a straw cowboy hat.

Mr. ROMNEY: You grow corn and beans?

Mr. ALLAN HALL BAKER: Yes.

Mr. ROMNEY: Pretty good prices this year, don't you think?

Mr. BAKER: Yes, it is.

Mr. ROMNEY: Looks like beans are coming back.

Mr. BAKER: The corn price has dropped.

Mr. ROMNEY: Yeah, about three bucks a bushel now?

Mr. BAKER: Right now.

Mr. ROMNEY: Yeah.

JAFFE: Romney asked just one thing of everyone in the crowd here.

Mr. ROMNEY: Who's going to Ames on August 11th?

(Soundbite of cheering)

JAFFE: Ames in August is the where and when of the Iowa Republican presidential straw poll. It's a fundraiser for the state party and an expensive proposition for the candidates' bussing their supporters there. Not long ago, top-tier candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain announced they weren't going to participate. Too bad for them, said Romney.

Mr. ROMNEY: They saw the handwriting on the wall: They couldn't win and I could.

JAFFE: It's not just his opinion that many Iowa Republicans find Giuliani too liberal, and McCain has been tarnished by his backing of the recently failed immigration bill, which was very unpopular with rank-and-file Republicans here. But ditching the straw poll in August will not help them in January at caucus time, says Romney.

Mr. ROMNEY: And so I'm going to participate in the Iowa straw poll, as well as in the caucuses. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, they play a very important role and I don't want to in any way shortchange that role.

JAFFE: Romney made this comment in the town of Red Oak, one of more than half a dozen little towns he visited earlier in the week. At each stop he made a speech, took questions and introduced Ann Romney, his wife of 38 years and the mother of their five sons.

(Soundbite of music)

JAFFE: In a meeting of the Iowa Christian Alliance near Council Bluffs, no one seemed bothered by the frequent charges that Romney had changed his views on issues like abortion to score political expediency.

Mr. GARY HERMAN(ph): Anybody who doesn't change their position as they age and learn things, you know, is pretty narrow minded.

JAFFE: Said Gary Herman. And while some Christians have questioned whether a Mormon like Romney is really one of them, Dick Favor(ph) called the controversy, quote, "poppycock."

Mr. DICK FAVOR: Very family oriented. Look, he's got five boys, one wife, 38 years. Two or three of the other candidates have been married two or three times.

JAFFE: Romney is hoping that kind of approval is enough to get Favor and like-minded conservatives all the way to Ames next month for the GOP straw poll.

With less than six weeks to go, Romney has no top-tier competition in that beauty contest, at least not until Fred Thompson officially declares. An overwhelming win could generate some good publicity for Romney. It might make him seen like the guy to beat, at least in Iowa.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Des Moines, Iowa.

MONTAGNE: Tomorrow we'll have a report on another candidate making the rounds in Iowa - Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.

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