MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Today, Mitt Romney made his first campaign swing this year into Iowa. That's the site of the first presidential caucuses. Romney tried to focus on economic and agricultural issues, but he faced questions about his commitment to competing in Iowa, where he spent heavily in the 2008 election only to finish second.
And as NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea tells us, the Republican got off to a less-than-perfect start for 2012.
DON GONYEA: Romney will formally announce his candidacy in New Hampshire next week, but he was all about Iowa today, kicking off his campaign in a nondescript building in a nondescript business park in the city of Ankeny.
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican Presidential Candidate): Come on in. There you go. There you go.
GONYEA: Romney sat at a small table at a software company called AgVision and chatted with employees.
Mr. ROMNEY: Now, you've been here a while.
Unidentified Man: Yes, I have.
Mr. ROMNEY: How are you guys doing?
Unidentified Man: Doing very well, I think, absolutely. Doing great.
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, the world of agriculture has been doing pretty well over the last few years.
GONYEA: Afterward, the candidate talked to reporters, standing at a tall mic stand set up in the parking lot.
Mr. ROMNEY: When it comes to the economy and jobs for the American people, President Obama has failed.
GONYEA: That's the point Romney wanted to drive home today - that and his own credentials as a businessman.
The main event of the day was in Des Moines at the Iowa Historical Building.
Mr. ROMNEY: Good to be with you. I see so many friends here. It's great to see you again. It's good to be home. This isn't exactly home, but it felt like it last time I was around.
GONYEA: After a 20-minute speech, there was a Q&A session, where most of the questions were about Iowa and about Romney's failure to win the caucuses last time and hints he won't invest as much time and money in the state this time around. Romney said he'd be putting in plenty of both.
Mr. ROMNEY: You'll see me more than you like, I'm afraid, in Iowa. You're going to get to - you're going to see my face from time to time.
GONYEA: Then he was asked if he'll participate in the August straw poll in Ames, an iconic political event that coincides with the Iowa State Fair. Romney wouldn't commit, and the questions about his standing in the state went on. Then about halfway through the scheduled Q and A session, one of his answers was cut short.
Mr. ROMNEY: I'm the same guy as I was last time. It's just that the things I know and the...
(Soundbite of fire alarm)
Mr. ROMNEY: Uh-oh, they want to get us out of here, don't they? My guess is that that means we need to exit the building. Is that right? I presume that's the fire alarm, so...
GONYEA: Then the alarm stopped.
Mr. ROMNEY: If we need to go, we'll let you know. I wasn't trying to get out of tough questions, I promise you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GONYEA: Then the alarm went off again.
(Soundbite of fire alarm)
GONYEA: The crowd slowly exited. Romney posed for pictures and signed autographs outside before seeking some peace and quiet at his next event location, a farm near Cedar Rapids.
Don Gonyea, NPR News.