By Paul West, Los Angeles Times
Mitt Romney made a belated 2012 campaign debut in Iowa on Friday, dipping a brown-loafered toe into the state that casts the first votes in the presidential contest.
Romney, who will formally enter the Republican race next week, has largely shunned Iowa since falling short here in the 2008 caucuses. He spent much of the day bobbing and weaving around questions about his commitment to Iowa.
“My guess is you’ll have plenty of opportunity to see me. I care about Iowa,” he told a midday audience inÂ Des Moines, after refusing to say whether he’d compete in a nonbinding straw vote this summer or go all-out in the caucuses next winter.
But if there was any doubt about whether he’d abandon Iowa altogether, as some have speculated, Romney may have put it to rest when he answered affirmatively a quintessential Iowa caucus question: about government subsidies for ethanol, the fuel produced from corn and other farm products.
“I support the subsidy of ethanol. I believe ethanol’s an important part of our energy solution in this country,” he told a supporter from West Des Moines.
The former Massachusetts governor has been described as unusually weak for a candidate many see as the Republican front-runner. And his somewhat diffident approach to Iowa â€” and to campaigning in general â€” is part of an attempt to lower expectations in his secondÂ White House try.
Romney told Iowans that his candidacy was tailored to these tough times.
“I’m not going to be flying all over the country and making a big folderol,” Romney said. “I know that keeping a lean campaign is part of winning in the final analysis.”
Four years ago, he invested heavily in Iowa organization and advertising, and his distant second-place finish was regarded as a setback. Though he is being cagier this time, his reluctance to compete fully is seen by Iowans as a potential threat to their state’s status in the nomination process, a matter of considerable civic pride and local economic influence.
Romney did predict he’d win the state, without specifying whether he meant the caucuses or the general election.
“What you can know is, I’ll be here debating, I’ll be here being interviewed, and I’ll be here speaking, and you’ll get to know me even better than you did last time,” he said to tepid applause from an audience that included some 2008 supporters.
His remarks, at a presidential candidate series forum sponsored by the Greater Des Moines Partnership, were sharply critical ofÂ President Obama‘s economic leadership. Romney described Obama’s election as a failed experiment in choosing a president without experience in private business.
“They say that officially the recession is over, but the jobs haven’t come back and the foreclosures are continuing,” Romney said. “His agenda failed.”
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