Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign… (Chris Carlson / Associated…)
REPORTING FROM DAVENPORT, IOWA — Mitt Romney, kicking off a four-day sprint across this state, argued on Tuesday that President Obama has failed to deliver on the campaign promises that he made four years ago this week in this city on the banks of the Mississippi River, when he pledged to fix Washington, repair the nation’s economy, put Americans back to work and unite the citizenry.
"Where you once challenged us to reach for our dreams, you now ask us to settle for less," Romney told hundreds gathered in a gilded ballroom at the historic Hotel Blackhawk, before ticking off statistics about unemployment, the federal debt and the median income. "Gone is the hope and change candidate of Davenport. Gone is the candidate who would heal the nation. Instead, the campaigner in chief divides Americans, engages in class warfare and resorts to distortion and demagoguery. Once, Barack Obama appealed to our better angels; today he demonizes fellow Americans."
Romney kicked off the multi-day swing through the Hawkeye State as polling shows that he could win big here when Iowa holds the first voting contest in the nation one week from today, as Newt Gingrich has slipped amid a barrage of attack ads. Romney has not spent as much time and money here as he did during his 2008 presidential bid, when he suffered a humiliating second-place finish. His lack of attention to the state has led some to question whether Iowans would support him.
But there was palpable enthusiasm at the event Tuesday, with 300 people in a standing-room crowd in the ballroom and hundreds more spilling outside in the entry and down the stairs.
Although Romney and Gingrich are engaged in a testy battle on the airwaves and through their campaigns, the former Massachusetts governor did not mention his GOP rivals on Tuesday, instead aiming his criticism at Obama, saying that he reflected "the worst of what Europe has become."
"This is an election not only to replace a president. It is an election to save the soul of America. It is a choice between two destinies," Romney said. "One is President Obama's entitlement society, where those in government control the resources and make the rules. I have a very different vision: an opportunity society. An America united by our ambitions, hopes and shared dreams. Where Americans have the opportunity to choose their course in life."
He argued that under Obama, the chosen few benefit while the masses suffer, and he pointed to Solyndra, the solar equipment maker that received a $535-million federal loan guarantee and went bankrupt in August. Republicans have suggested that the guarantee was pushed by the White House to reward a major campaign donor with ties to Solyndra's biggest shareholder, a charge the Obama administration denies..
"Won't it be nice when free markets guide the economy, rather than a president's paybacks and boondoggles?" Romney said.
Romney did not overtly ask for the crowd’s support in the caucuses on Jan. 3, as is traditional, but his wife, Ann, who introduced Romney, said her husband was the only candidate who could beat Obama, and she confidently predicted victory.
"Help is on the way," she said. "Mitt is going to win the nomination and then he’s going to beat Obama and then he’s going to fix this mess that we’re all in."