Mitt Romney on Iowa finish, ads

I had an opportunity to chat by phone with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this afternoon as he rolled from one Iowa town to another in his campaign bus.

Henderson:  "Given the thrust and parry on the advertising front of late — what is the outcome of that?  Is this a voter-suppression effort?"

Romney:  "You know, the advertising on my part, of course, has gone on for a long, long time to introduce people to me.  I was not well known.  Frankly, I think people wondered about anybody coming from Massachusetts so I’ve had to overcome the perception of that liberal state and more recently talked about issues and I think issues are critical.  I think it’s been important for me to point out the differences on key issues between myself and, you know, the other leading contender here — Mike Huckabee, which is we have very differing views and track record as related to illegal immigration and to spending and taxation and those that will — of course also crime and pardons and commutations and those differences, I think, are important for people to understand."

Henderson:  "The McCain camp has weighed in.  As you know, you’re running advertisements in New Hampshire in regards to Mr. McCain’s record and one of Mr. McCain’s aides — Charlie Black, who you may know — has suggested that the issue is your credibility and you’re not helping it by running these type of advertisements."

Romney:  "Well, certainly Senator McCain has been in a lot of campaigns before.  He ran for president in 2000 so he probably needs to go back and look at his ads back in those days (Romney laughs) and maybe they’ll have less to say.  I think it’s very legitimate in a campaign to talk about issues and to describe different people’s views on different issues and I know some people are trying to run from their record.  I’m not.  I was governor four years.  I’m happy to stand up for the things I did as governor and my campaign as president is based upon that same record, so if people don’t like their record, I mean Senator McCain, for instance, voted against the Bush tax cuts twice and just yesterday when he was being interviewed he stood up again and said that he was right to vote against the Bush tax cuts.  He did not think that was a wrong decision.  Well, that’s a very important, defining decision.  I think the Bush tax cuts helped propel our economy forward and so if people don’t hear those differences, I think they’d not be sure what they’re getting in their candidate so I think describing those differences between the different candidates is an entirely appropriate part of a political campaign, but personal attacks — and you’ve seen some of those in this campaign — that’s a very different matter."

During his answer to a question about the decisions he’s made in Iowa (I asked if participating in the Iowa GOP Straw Poll, in retrospect had been a mistake since Giuliani & McCain skipped it), Romney offered this:  "I think it was very important for me very early on to make a decision to be fully engaged in the Iowa process.  I frankly think that’s not only good for getting the nomination, but I think to win the White House our nominee has to be able to win in Iowa and if the nominee, you know, has just not put the effort to try and win in Iowa, then the likelihood of them being able to win in the fall against the Democrats is not very high.  So, you’ve got to play in Iowa.  You’ve got to play in New Hampshire.  These purple states are going to be critical and so I think there was no question that it was important for me to be in the Straw Poll, to engage as actively as I have.  I’ve done over 200 public events in Iowa and so it’s been very, very important to me."

UPDATE — more from interview:

Back on October 31, during an interview with Radio Iowa, Romney said he’d be happy with first, second or third in Iowa.

"Well, obviously you’d like to go for the gold and you hope you don’t get the silver medal or the bronze, but I’d like to get one of the first three tickets coming out of Iowa and I’m hoping to get the winning ticket.  That’s why we’re working so hard, particularly in this last week….We’re working really hard to bring in all the people who’ve been supportive over the past year and answer questions they have, shake hands and to get ’em out to caucus," Romney just now offered during our phone conversation.

Romney’s distilled closing speech to Iowans seems to focus just as much on his time in the private sector and on the Olympics — and on his family life — as it does on his record as governor of Massachusetts.  Is that because voters are looking for a Washington outsider?

"You know, I don’t know that it’s not so much not being in politics as having had experience which is broader than politics," Romney began in answer to that question.  "I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having political experience, but certainly I think it’s helpful to have had the kind of experience I’ve had in the private sector, understanding why jobs come and why they go, understanding how we’re going to stay ahead of other nations and have a growing economy really depends, in part, in having lived in the economy, to have strong and growing jobs is going to take, I think, a leader who understands something about jobs and I think my 25 years in the business world and then running the Olympics and then, of course, being a governor gives me that experience and also shows that I know how to make big decisions and get important things done and changes and so I think it’s highly relevant and each one of us is different.  I’m happy to talk about the things I’ve done and of course the other fellows will do the same about their records and I respect each of them."

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About O.Kay Henderson

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