Romney’s “official” now

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney walked into the tourism building on the state fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, shortly after one o’clock today for the second event on his "announcement" tour.  Snow was still falling lightly outside, which Romney aide Gentry Collins labeled  "caucus-style weather." 

Romney in Iowa

The last political event to be held in the venue was Howard Dean’s 2004 Sunday-before-Caucus-Night rally at which Rob Reiner and Martin Sheen spoke.  A crowd of about 200 turned out for today’s Romney event, including some big names from Iowa GOP politics — former Iowa Governor Robert Ray and his wife, Billie; former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and his wife, Chris; 2002 GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Gross (who is a Romney supporter); new Iowa GOP executive director Chuck Laudner; several legislators (including House GOP Leader Christopher Rants who is a Romney backer), and former state Senator Jack Rife (Rife told me he was just there to hear Romney, and is waiting for Condi Rice to run). 

The room was "decorated" with a John Deere tractor (which Romney referenced once in his speech, calling it by its number — as farmers do).  There were also hay bales — the tiny old square ones, not the big round kind.   

Doug Gross gave a testimonial, explaining why he’s a Romney backer, then Romney, his wife and two of their sons walked into the hall.  Romney’s wife then took the mic and introduced her husband.  There were bleachers arranged around the sides of the room, plus chairs circling a stage, and after Romney was introduced the crowd remained standing for at least 10 minutes, standing patiently listening to his remarks.

Romney began with some biographical information and referenced his earlier event in Michigan, which gave his a chance to talk about his father — the former Michigan Governor who ran for president himself decades ago. 

Romney then spoke of the need for a Washington, D.C. outsider to be the party’s nominee, declared the government was spending too much money and taxes are too high  Next, Romney launched into a broader discussion of Iraq than was included in his Michigan announcement speech.

"As we look at the face of radical jihad and the potential for nuclear proliferation, I think we have to recognize that our military might in this country should not be defined by the whims of an ever-changing political agenda.  We need to remember that the best ally of peace in the world is a strong America," Romney said, and the crowd applauded.

"And we need to define our role in the world not solely on the basis of our strength but also on the basis of our heart, by our willingness to share, to make a difference for other nations, to reach out, to help, to lead the rest of the world," Romney continued.  "We’ve got some extraordinary challenges int eh world.  We’re going to have to fight for democracy and freedom even in our own hemisphere as we see a new, oh, what will I call him, aspiring strong-man coming to the fore.  We’re also going to have to recognize and need to help those in Africa who are brutalized and diseased.  We’re going to have to look to the Muslim world and recognize that we, I believe, should lead a partnership of all the nations in the world that are willing to join us to help move the world of Islam to support moderate, modern governments and modern people and to help them embrace modernity so that they can reject the violent and the extreme.  Only Muslims are going to, ultimately, be able to reject the jihad.

"And finally, let me note that as Iran is endeavoring to become a nuclear power that we’re going to have to lead all of the civilized world to say we will not accept that course.  As a matter of fact, it’s critical that in America will not in any way engage with and negotiate with jihadists who are bent on destroying our nation, destroying our friends and destroying our way of life," Romney said, as the crowd began to applaud.

"Let me take just a minute and talk about our troops in Iraq.  Boy, we want them home.  Every person in this room wants them home.  We want them as soon as we possibly can have them home but as we think about bringing them home, we also have to recognize the risks associated with what we’re facing there because if we were to see a collapse of the government there, a collapse of the country in some way, you could see potentially a massive civil war, full-out civil war breaking out with potentially millions of lives being lost there.  You could see in the Shi’ia south the Iranians reaching over and grabbing to take power.  You could see in the Sunni northwest the al Qaeda folks taking power and taking leadership in that area and establishing a base for terror that could be awful for us for many, many years indeed.  You could see the unrest in some of the Kurd populations in surrounding countries perhaps destabilize the borders of Turkey and it’s even possible that a regional conflict throughout the Middle East could occur if things really unraveled in Iraq and for those reasons, you recognize that unless you manage this properly, there is a significant risk that the impact on American lives and the need to send American troops back there in even larger numbers could occur.  We have to ask Americans say ‘What is in our best interest as Americans? What are our best American interests?’

"With all those things in mind and despite how badly we want all of our troops to come home right now we don’t want to send more later and lose even more lives.  With that in mind, I support the president in his effort to stabilize the population of Iraq and to bring success as long as there’s a reasonable prospect of that occurring," Romney said.  The crowd had started applauding at ‘I support the president’ and Romney talked over the applause to finish that thought.

"Let me also note no matter how Iraq is resolved, we have to make sure that we take stock of those extraordinary people who have given of theirselves to this great land.  We know that there are people who put their lives aside, who shed precious lives on behalf of our freedom.  We have a sacred pact with the families and the individuals who have risked their lives for us as well as with those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and that pact must never be broken by this nation," Romney said — perhaps a reference to Obama’s Sunday statement that American soldiers’ lives in Iraq had been "wasted."

Romney then went to another topic, finished his speech and the Tom Petty song "Runnin’ Down a Dream" was pumped through the sound system.  Romney then saw Governor Ray in the crowd.  Romney grabbed the microphone, the music stopped and Romney paid tribute to Ray and the rest of the crowd for wading out in the snow.  "I don’t know how you got here in that snow.  It was not easy.  It was bouncy coming into the airport and we made our way…and I want to say thank you for being here," Romney said.  But he didn’t stop with that, and gave another short speech and was more relaxed and conversational.

"This is going to be fun.  I love coming to Iowa…We’ve met a lot of wonderful people.  Met with great crowds…The students from all of the colleges…It’s important for us to make sure that our message gets through to young people…We’re talking about what America is going to be…It’s important that we remain the most powerful nation on the Earth so that we can maintain the kind of standard of living and that the Earth can have the peace that’s associated with a great and charitable and generous nation being that super power.  This is about the future.  The present’s pretty good for America.  Our economy’s good.  Our unemployment rates are low.  We’re facing some tough times in Iraq, but overall life here’s pretty good thanks to the great contributions of so many others, but what we’re going to have to do is make sure our future is as great as our present and has been our past.  It’s not going to be easy, but this is a time we need to call on the spirit of the American people, the heart of the American people and that’s why we’re in this.  We don’t have all the answers….We need to go from a government of bickering and partisanship and inaction to a government of innovation and technology and new ideas and action," Romney said, then offered in conclusion:  "It’s time to put the American people first and government behind.  Thanks you guys.  Great to be with you."

The Rascal Flats remake of "Life Is a Highway" blasted over the sound system and Romney shook hands and posed for pictures with the crowd.      

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.