CLIVE, Iowa — Occupy Wall Street protesters interrupted Mitt Romney’s speech in a suburban Des Moines warehouse Monday night, breaking in with their rallying cry of “mic check” and yelling up at the candidate.
Romney paused, seemingly thrown off-balance, and the crowd began chanting “Mitt, Mitt,” loudly to drown out the protesters.
The protests quieted down for a moment. Romney thanked his supporters and then tried to return to his speech. “Let’s talk about the Constitution again,” he began.
A supporter yelled “go to work,” drawing laughs from the partisan audience.
Romney then praised the First Amendment. “Isn’t it great to live in a country where people can express their views?” he asked.” I’ll tell you one thing: When President Obama is here I hope some of you in the audience will make the same sounds about his policies.”
About 15 protesters were pulled away from the campaign event and three arrested, sources said.
Occupy Wall Street protesters have disrupted various political events around Iowa in the last few weeks: five were arrested outside Ron Paul’s headquarters last Thursday and others have protested outside of Romney’s and President Obama’s Iowa offices.
Romney’s final event of the day — and second to last rally in Iowa before the Tuesday evening caucuses — was a show of force. He brought along Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) to introduce him, and Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), two anti-spending warriors who have endorsed Romney, were also onstage. Four of Romney’s five adult sons and his wife, Ann, were also there, and Ann Romney praised her husband’s values and record.
The slickly-produced event had multiple risers for the cameras, a large American flag, a banner with Romney’s slogan, “Believe in America,” and tightly controlled rope lines — a stark contrast to the overcrowded and chaotic events rival Rick Santorum held earlier in the day.
At Santorum’s event in Boone, Iowa, he was without a microphone, leading many in the back half of the audience to complain they couldn’t hear him. At a later event in Altoona a bullhorn had been procured but he had to give two separate speeches because the overflow audience could not fit into one room.
Romney’s closing event was held in the cavernous warehouse of Competitive Edge, a company that engraves objects for businesses. Rows of mini-gumball machines, water bottles and engraved pens sat on tables lining the area.
Romney’s speech focused on economic issues: he promised to repeal “ObamaCare,” a standard line that always draws applause from GOP audiences, and criticized Obama for failing to live up to his promise as a candidate to control federal spending and as president to turn the economy around quickly. Romney also slammed China, which he accused of “hacking our computers.”
The former Massachusetts governor has led or been in second place in most Iowa polls over the last week, but Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, has picked up strong momentum and closed in on Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), making the race a “jump ball,” as former Iowa GOP political director Craig Robinson put it earlier on Tuesday.
Romney's campaign is quietly confident about Tuesday's results — and how the field shakes out afterward. Santorum has struggled mightily with fundraising in past months, and while he's spent a good amount of time in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he could perform strongly, after that things get expensive quickly in Florida, which costs $8 million a week for advertising.
Top Romney adviser Stuart Stevens paused and avoided the question when asked if he thought Santorum posed a serious threat to Romney being the nominee. When pressed on the matter, he smiled and said "I don't want to talk about that."
Eric Fehrstrom, another senior Romney adviser, refused to say Santorum can't win the nomination, but did not indicate that the campaign has genuine worries about losing to him.
"He's a serious competitor and we take him seriously," he told The Hill. "I don't want to dismiss him as a competitor because he's a serious person in his own right and Mitt Romney respects him."