MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. Mitt Romney made a rare swing through Iowa today. His current run for the White House hasn't included a big presence in the first state to actually vote. Iowa holds its caucuses on January 3rd. The former Massachusetts governor visited the west of the state today. And as NPR's Don Gonyea reports, he fielded a range of questions about the death of Moammar Gadhafi, about Romney's debate performance this week and about why he's been giving the state the cold shoulder.

DON GONYEA: Mitt Romney was campaigning in Sioux City this morning when the news broke out of Libya that Moammar Gadhafi had been killed. The candidate gave reporters a very brief reaction to the news.


MITT ROMNEY: I think it's about time. Gadhafi, a terrible tyrant that killed his own people and murdered Americans and others in the tragedy in Lockerbie. The world is a better place with Gadhafi gone.

GONYEA: Romney and other Republican candidates have been critical of President Obama's decision to intervene in Libya, but today, he did not answer a follow-up as to whether President Obama deserves credit. At the town hall meeting, Romney found plenty of other things to criticize Mr. Obama over. Mostly, the focus was on the economy.


ROMNEY: And America needs leadership. I say, again, you know, I like the president. I think he's a nice guy, but he's never led before.

GONYEA: This was Romney's first trip to Iowa since state fair week back in August. This time, he was in the conservative west side of the state. It's an area where Romney did poorly four years ago. And at today's town hall, he seemed wary at first.


ROMNEY: I know there are friends in the audience. There are - I see some Romney stickers on, although I learned that sometimes those are, you know, just camouflage.

GONYEA: But in the 30 minutes of Q&A that followed, there were no direct attacks, no stinging critiques of the Massachusetts law he signed known as Romneycare. Questions were mostly routine: on cutting government, on taxes and the budget. As for Romney, he did not mention any of his opponents for the nomination by name. And on stage, he strove to stay above what has become an increasingly aggressive GOP campaign. With the Iowa caucuses now just over two months away, we'll see a lot of ads like this brand-new one from Texas Governor Rick Perry's campaign, which uses Romney's own words against him.


ROMNEY: I don't think that I've ever hired an illegal in my life. We hired a lawn company to mow our lawn, and they had illegal immigrants that were working there. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals.

RICK SANTORUM: You just don't have credibility, Mitt, when it...

GONYEA: And even though Romney kept to the high road at his town hall today, at the very same time, his campaign was launching a new website devoted entirely to a scathing review of Perry's record called At one point today, Romney was quizzed about why he's spent so little time in Iowa. Twenty-eight-year-old attorney Matt Winter wanted to know if this is finally the start of a real effort by Romney in the state. The candidate responded...


ROMNEY: I want to get the support of Iowans. I'm in Iowa. I've been - this is not my first trip to Iowa, as you know, and I will be here again and again. I'd love to win in Iowa, any of us would.

GONYEA: Winter said it's important to him that candidates take Iowa seriously. He also says he's a moderate and sees Romney as such, though that's a word Romney will never utter on the campaign trail. He'd much rather be seen as inevitable. Don Gonyea, NPR News, in western Iowa.

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