By Ben Jacobson
Herald Staff Writer
A consistent frontrunner in a crowded Republican field, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is likely accustomed to a strong turnout at campaign events. However, the experienced politician admitted shock Wednesday at the throng of supporters greeting him in Clinton.
“I was overwhelmed by the response of the people of Clinton,” Romney told the Clinton Herald, following speeches at two local restaurants. “We had expected 50 to 75 people, but we had many times that and had to go to two different facilities, just to see them all.”
Homer’s Deli, Romney’s planned venue, filled to capacity early, forcing campaign workers to find a home for the overflow supporters. Luckily, Rastrelli’s Restaurant, located directly across the street from Homer’s, was able to oblige. By the time Romney, his wife Ann, and introductory speaker, US Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Illinois, arrived, even the overflow venue was standing-room only.
Schock wasted no time espousing the merits of Romney, citing his history of bipartisan success in heavily Democrat Massachusetts. That willingness and ability to work outside of party lines for compromise is necessary to defeat President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election, he said.
“We need somebody who’s time tested,” Schock said. “We need somebody who’s been through that furnace before.”
Romney gave similar speeches at both Homer’s and Rastrelli’s. The primary objective of his campaign is to “restore America,” he said, as opposed to Obama’s quest to “transform America.” Creating more jobs, preserving a strong military and shrinking Washington, D.C.’s influence nationally will help realize this goal, according to Romney.
Shrinking government could even serve to bolster job creation, Romney said, in response to an audience question. Though reducing the number of government employees exiled as a result could pile on to the mass of unemployed Americans, the payoff would come as decreased government regulations open the way for new or expanded private sector business.
Romney called for the creation of a “merit” society that provides opportunities to succeed, as he believes our founding fathers intended. Taking from one person to prop up another is an incorrect interpretation of the objectives of those founding fathers, he said, believing Obama to be guilty of such behavior.
That approach would eventually “replace ambition with envy” and lead to class warfare, Romney said.
Trying to mold the United States into what is common in European countries is a mistake, Romney said, as on average, an American earns 50 percent more than a European. This, he said, is due to the foresight of the country’s founders.
“The patriots that crafted this country, had the wisdom that sees beyond the years, and made an America that became the most powerful nation in the history of the earth,” Romney said.
Romney also emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong military. If elected, he said he hopes to increase the military by 100,000 personnel, and increase the ship-building efforts of the country. Iran remains a threat, he said, and the country’s forays into nuclear power cause him concern. “It’s unacceptable, in my view, for Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” Romney said.
The fact that the Soviet Union was also in possession of nuclear weaponry shouldn’t make it acceptable for Iran to acquire similar capabilities, he said. In the Cold War era, the threat of mutually assured destruction kept itchy trigger fingers at bay. Iran, according to Romney, would not be so hesitant.
Following the speeches, Romney, armed with a fresh supply of doughnuts, cookies and Blarney Stones from the Sweetheart Bakery, sat down with the Herald. He elaborated on subjects broached in his speeches, including his plan for job creation.
With the country still struggling with high, recession-fueled unemployment rates, job creation has been a persistent theme throughout the campaign. Romney said that the key to creating more jobs is to make the country more appealing to industry. He criticized the belief that China and other foreign countries have become more attractive to companies looking to expand or relocate. With winnowed government regulations and a competitive tax structure, the United States could become a destination country, he said.
“What brings investment to America, either from overseas or from businesses here, is the belief that this is the best place to do business,” Romney told the Herald.
Romney also addressed Iowa’s role as the first-in-the-nation caucus state. That distinction came under fire recently from University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom, who, in a nationally published magazine article, questioned whether garnering votes from a “homogenous” Iowa was the best litmus test in a national election. But Romney said that he respected the views of Iowa voters, along with the views of the voters in New Hampshire, traditionally the home of the second round of contests.
“The people of Iowa pay a great deal of attention to the political process,” he said. “The electorate here is extraordinarily well-informed ...and serves the nation by evaluating the candidates on a personal basis.”
The Clinton stop was the second of the day for Romney, who had experienced similar crowds in Muscatine earlier in the morning, and in Davenport the evening before.
Though Rastrelli’s owner Mike Rastrelli had no idea that he would be hosting an event for a presidential candidate until that morning, he said he was happy to accommodate the overflow.
Political events aren’t huge money-makers, he said, as people tend to be more focused on the speech than the menu, but Rastrelli enjoys playing host.
“We’ve had quite a few over the years,” Rastrelli said. “They’re great for the citizenry to get a chance to meet the candidates.”
The caucus on Jan. 3 will be the first step in a months-long nomination process, during which the field of candidates will be reduced to the individual who will challenge President Obama in November.
Though candidates such as Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Herman Cain, who has since withdrawn from the race, have cycled in and out of the lead in polls, Romney has remained consistently competitive.