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GUY RAZ, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Now to Iowa, which got a visit today from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He raised his flag a bit higher in the state that begins the nominating process. The caucuses will be held January 3rd. Romney also spent time today defending a new controversial ad that's running in New Hampshire. Our story comes from Sarah McCammon of Iowa Public Radio.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: This is only Romney's fifth visit to Iowa this year but already his second this month. He'd been keeping a low profile in the state where he finished a distant second in 2008 despite an aggressive and expensive campaign. Dressed in a dark blue jacket and gray slacks, Romney addressed a crowd of around 400 employees at Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines.

MITT ROMNEY: I'm proud to be with you today, on this day before Thanksgiving. I salute you and what you do

. What you're doing allows our economy to grow, and that allows us to care for one another with the revenues in taxes you all pay. I love the private sector. Some people don't like the private sector. I do. I love you, guys. I like what you're doing. I want to encourage you to recognize that our days in the future will be even brighter than the past.

MCCAMMON: Romney repeated themes he's focused on before: reducing the size of government, cutting programs like Amtrak and turning over control of Medicaid to the states. He was joined on the stump by a fellow Republican who had once considered running himself.

ROMNEY: I'm so lucky he didn't run, and I'm so glad that he's been willing to be with me today. Would you please welcome the senator just to your north, Senator John Thune?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MCCAMMON: South Dakota Senator Thune joked that Congress is so unpopular right now he might have helped Romney more by coming out against him.

SENATOR JOHN THUNE: What really matters is what the people of Iowa think. It's the people who are going to go out there to those caucuses and - coming up here in just a few weeks - and make a decision about the person that we want to top the ballot for us as we head into this next election.

MCCAMMON: Romney then opened a question-and-answer session by telling the audience it'd be great if they all participated in this year's caucuses, but he seemed a bit coy about asking them to vote for him.

ROMNEY: Iowa has the first and, in some respects, one of the most powerful voices as to who our nominee will be. With that in mind, you can ask me some questions that might help you make up your mind as to whether I'm the guy to support or whether there's somebody else.

MCCAMMON: Romney was questioned by reporters afterward about his first campaign ad airing in New Hampshire. It uses a soundbite of President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.

MCCAMMON: That sound bite comes from the 2008 campaign when candidate Obama was poking fun at something said by an aide to Senator John McCain. In the Romney ad, it sounds as if the president is speaking for himself. Romney defended the ad, adding that it obviously got under the skin of Democrats and the president.

ROMNEY: Well, actually, the ad, before it went out, was sent out with press releases describing that what the president had said about John McCain was now going to be used, to be said about him. So there was no hidden effort on the part of our campaign. It was instead to point out that what's sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander.

MCCAMMON: Mary Roth, a 29-year-old Nationwide employee, says she's tired of what she describes as GOP candidates pointing fingers and blaming Obama for everything, but she's not firmly in the president's camp either.

MARY ROTH: I don't really like anybody right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROTH: I would feel guilty voting Republican because, socially, we just don't see eye to eye. But from his business standpoint, it's appealing.

MCCAMMON: For Romney and all the other contenders, the challenge is to convince voters like Roth they're appealing enough to support in January and next November. For NPR News, I'm Sarah McCammon in Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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