Romney downplays frontrunner status in Iowa, Richardson stresses resume, Hagel jokes

Since this is the day after Halloween, let’s get the Halloween news out of the way first.  Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel — the guy who teased the nation’s press corps with the idea of a Hagel presidential run — dressed up like Joe Biden yesterday.  Hagel showed up for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting wearing a Biden mask and a Biden for President shirt.  Biden, as you probably know, is chairman of the committee.  I am not taking this as a Hagel endorsement of Biden, but…. 

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney chatted with me yesterday. The topics of immigration, driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and Social Security came first, then trade.  Romney is proposing an international alliance uniting the U.S. with the E.U. and other countries led by "free traders."  It appears Romney does not envision China in this alliance, however.

"China is the 800 pound gorilla and America’s going to have to be tough and strong and our agreements are going to have to protect our jobs," Romney said.

As a final question, I asked Romney for his view of the final stretch run to January 3.

"I’ve never been here before.  This is the first time.  I’ve never run for president before.  It’s too hard for me to tell," Romney said, with a laugh.  Then, Romney launched into an answer he often gives on the trail.  He concluded with this, downplaying expectations that he will win Iowa’s Caucuses:  "I don’t know if I’m going to come out first, second or third, but I think I’m going to come out somewhere in that grouping and I hope I get the kind of support I need to bolster my campaign to receive the nomination."

Finally, Bill Richardson has been running ads on Iowa TV these days focused on his negotiations back in 1995 to extract two Americans who were being held as hostages by Saddam Hussein.  (The ad ends with a fascinating black-and-white still image:  Richardson climbing aboard what looks like Air Force One.)  One of the men is now deceased.  The other, Bill Barloon, grew up in New Hampton, Iowa.  Barloon was sitting in the audience on Tuesday night in Philadelphia when Richardson and the other Democratic presidential candidates appeared in a "debate" on MSNBC.  Richardson at one point made reference to Barloon as an example of his experience in foreign affairs.

Barloon spoke with Radio Iowa shortly before the debate. 

Henderson:  "What does it feel like to be a political prop?"

Barloon laughed.  "I guess that’s what I am.  I hadn’t thought about it that way.  You know, whatever I can do for the governor.  If they think this will help them in their campaign, I’m more than willing to do it.  I’m proud to do it."

Henderson:  "I asked this question of Senator McCain and fellow named Bud Day who was in prison camp in Vietnam with McCain…"

Barloon:  "Right."

Henderson: "Why do you guys maintain a friendship and revive memories of what many would think was a painful time in your lives?  So, I guess, turning that question to you:  why do you go back to what was obviously a trying period of time in your life and relive that?"

Barloon:  "I understand your question completely and I wish I had a textbook answer for you, except for a gut feeling and a feeling in my heart.  I feel like I owe this man my life, you know.  I can understand what Mr. McCain and his friend, I can understand the bond they have.  Bill Richardson was my freedom.  You know, when I saw him, I knew I was leaving Iraq for good and it’s very heart-tugging.  I just wish I could explain it better, Kay, I really do."

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About O.Kay Henderson

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