ATLANTIC, Iowa — Mitt Romney promised his campaign war chest is well-stocked for a long primary battle on the day after the fundraising quarter ended.
“We’ll do better this quarter than any other quarter so far,” he told reporters after a speech at the Family Table Restaurant.
Standing on the counter, Romney spoke to a packed house in tiny southwest Iowa town on Sunday afternoon and promised to fight hard against many of President Obama’s policies. But he was speaking to an audience where the 70 or so reporters far outnumbered the locals.
Cass County, of which Atlantic is the county seat, backed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) over Romney in the 2008 primary, and the speech took place on New Year’s Day, which might partly explain the small turnout at the event.
Romney ignored his opponents and talk about President Obama during the stump speech, pointing to a statement Obama made early in his presidency that if he didn’t help turn the economy around he wouldn’t be reelected. “I’m here to collect,” he said to cheers.
After long-seeking to minimize his campaign's effort in Iowa to downplay expectations, Romney has campaigned hard in the state in the last month. He has spent much of the last week hitting diners and coffee shops across the state, and currently holds very slim leads in most recent polls.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) has risen fast in the polls and may be able to catch Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas).
When asked about Santorum, Romney called him a friend and a “good guy” and pointed out that Santorum endorsed him in 2008, and pointed to their different life paths for why he thought he should be the nominee.
“Like Speaker Gingrich, Sen. Santorum has spent his career in the government, in Washington,” Romney said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a very different background than what I have and I think that the people of this country people recognize that with our economy as the major issue we face right now that it’d be helpful to have someone who understands the economy first-hand.”
When asked if he was as conservative as Santorum, Romney dodged the question.
“I’m pleased to point people to my record as the governor of Massachusetts,” he said, saying he balanced the budget, fought against illegal immigration, and had demonstrated “good solid conservative principles.”
When pressed on the matter, he said “I’m a conservative, I’m proud to be a conservative businessman and what distinguishes me from the others in the field is that I understand the economy firsthand, having lived in it,” rather than addressing whether Santorum was further to the right than him.
Before the speech, the diner was flooded with reporters — it was difficult to find an actual voter to talk to, and whenever locals began talking about their views or who they planned to vote for they were surrounded by three or four interested journalists. Bemused waitresses pushed slowly through the crowd bearing plates of fried chicken, while the cooks snapped phone pictures of the melee.
Ann Romney had her own confusion in the crowd during the event. Looking for the one of her five sons who was campaigning with them, she called out for Matt, but Craig, the youngest, was the in the room.