Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign… (Charlie Neibergall / AP…)
DES MOINES – Returning to the state that launched Barack Obama’s path to the presidency, Mitt Romney went on offense Tuesday, accusing his rival of carelessly driving the country into "a financial crisis of both debt and spending that threaten what it means to be an American."
After a week in which the president’s position shift on the divisive topic of gay marriage consumed the debate, Romney tried to steer the conversation back to the economy — never mentioning that Iowa’s 5.2% unemployment rate is far lower than in many other states.
“A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and across the nation and every day we fail to act we feed that fire with our own lack of resolve,” Romney said to a crowd of a couple hundred in an ornate ballroom at the Hotel Fort Des Moines. “The people of Iowa and America have watched President Obama for nearly four years, much of that time with Congress controlled by his own party. And rather than put out the spending fire, he has fed the fire. He has spent more and borrowed more.”
“This is not just bad economics, this is morally wrong and we must stop it,” the presumed Republican nominee said to applause.
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Though there has been little public polling here since Romney’s Republican rivals withdrew from the race, both parties clearly see a competitive race here—evidenced by the fact that Romney’s visit came just three days after a visit by the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden. When the Obama campaign launched a new television ad this week criticizing Romney’s business background, Iowa was among the handful of states where it aired. A new Super PAC aimed at turning out young voters for the GOP is targeting a small number of states, including Iowa.
Obama defeated 2008 Republican nominee John McCain by 10 points in 2008; George W. Bush won a far more slender victory — less than 1% — in 2004 after losing it by a fraction of a point four years earlier. But the Obama campaign has reason for worry here.
There is far less enthusiasm about the president’s campaign this cycle and signs that the Republican Party — even evangelicals — who were lukewarm to Romney are coalescing behind him. That process was helped by the president’s announcement that he supports gay marriage and Romney’s reaffirmation that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. Republicans have also been making months of gains in voter registration, and now edge Democrats.
Speaking before two teleprompters, Romney tried to broaden his message beyond his own party—noting that the nation’s mounting debt is an issue that Democrats and Republicans care about. He also credited former President Clinton for stating nearly a generation ago that “the era of big government” was over.
“Even a former (McGovern) campaign worker like President Clinton was signaling to his own party that Democrats should no longer try to govern by proposing a new program for every problem,” Romney said. “President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas, along with transparency and bipartisanship. It’s enough to make you wonder if maybe it was a personal beef with the Clintons, but probably it runs much deeper than that.”
Though Romney touted his plans to reduce government spending to 20% of GDP over four years (a drop from its current level of 24.3%) in part by capping increases in benefits for higher income retirees, he did not offer any greater detail on how he would achieve those spending cuts while advancing his plan to reduce individual income tax rates by 20% — a fact that was noted by the Obama campaign.
“While President Obama has put forward a plan to reduce the national debt by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, Mitt Romney refuses to say what spending cuts or tax increases he’d make to cover the cost of giving $5 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans,” Obama’s campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said. “Mitt Romney simply wants to return to the same policies that caused the crisis and weakened the middle class: budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and letting Wall Street write its own rules.”