(James Oliphant / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Des Moines — Campaigning in Iowa on Thursday, Mitt Romney told a heckler, “Corporations are people, my friend”—words immediately seized upon by Democrats in what they termed as a possible defining statement by the presidential candidate.
Romney, speaking to a crowd of hundreds at the Iowa State Fair, was being pressed about raising taxes to help cover entitlement spending. When one mentioned raising corporate tax rates, Romney responded by saying corporations were no different than people. The line earned him a sustained round of applause from the crowd.
But the Democratic National Committee fired off emails almost immediately after the remarks, as part of a continuing effort to frame the GOP frontrunner as an out-of-touch elitist.
“This is what Mitt Romney is going to run on?” wrote DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse.
Romney is in Iowa as part of a low-key effort to garner support in advance of the Ames straw poll Saturday. The former Massachusetts governor is on the ballot, but won’t be participating in the event and isn’t expected to be among the top finishers. Still, his campaign is hoping that he’ll beat expectations.
He was warmly, if not ardently, received by the state fair crowd, baking in the August heat. And he continued to hammer President Obama on the economy, never once mentioning his fellow rivals for the Republican nomination.
“We’re being led by a fine fella, but he’s out of his depth,” Romney said. “He just doesn’t understand how the economy works.”
He had nothing to say about the debt ceiling fight, the upcoming deficit negotiations on Capitol Hill, or the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor’s.
And interestingly, while other GOP competitors such as Tim Pawlenty are here highlighting their executive experience, Romney played down his four years in office in Massachusetts, instead pointing to his work as a venture capitalist in the private sector. “Let’s send some citizens to Washington,” he said.
A small band of hecklers, positioned near the stage, continually pressed Romney on how he would protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—and quarreled with him about whether wealthy Americans should pay higher taxes.
“There was a time in this country when we didn’t attack people based on their success,” Romney said.
The exchange seemed to animate the candidate, pushing him to sharpen his rhetoric. “Barack Obama is killing this economy!” he growled.
After his brief remarks, Romney toured the fairgrounds, where just about every form of foodstuff can be found either fried, or on a stick, or both. He stopped at an old-time portrait studio and a Chinese noodle stand, telling people again and again, “I’m Mitt Romney, and I’m running for president.”
He met up with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and the two of them proceeded to the pork tent, where they grilled sausages together. Later Thursday, Romney will participate in a debate in Ames sponsored byFox News Channel.
His campaign is bracing for the entry of Rick Perry into the race. Polls suggest Perry has the potential to endanger Romney's frontrunner status. Perry won't be debating Thursday, but former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a consistent antagonist on the campaign trail, will be present and is expected to target Romney in his remarks.