By Seema Mehta
DES MOINES, Iowa — Mitt Romney doubled down on his welfare attack against President Barack Obama on Wednesday, and outlined his five-point plan to help the middle class.
But what was most notable was what he didn’t talk about — his opposition to a wind energy tax credit that is roiling Republicans in Iowa, a leading producer of wind power.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, as well as other top GOP politicians, has offered harsh words for the presumptive Republican nominee’s position, with Branstad telling Radio Iowa that Romney’s position was shaped by a “bunch of East Coast people that need to get out here in the real world to find out what’s really going on.”
Branstad, an honorary co-chairman of Romney’s Iowa effort, did not attend the rally in Des Moines on Wednesday or a fundraiser in the suburbs Tuesday night. His staff said he had previous commitments in northwest Iowa. But Branstad said he planned to press the matter with Romney.
“I want to talk to him personally,” Branstad said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I talked to his aide. I can understand why he objects to Solyndra and all the boondoggles Obama has supported with the stimulus, but remember, the wind energy tax credit (was proposed) by Sen. (Charles) Grassley and way preceded Obama. It’s a tool that’s helped us grow this energy. … We love it.”
But he also softened his words, saying he didn’t think the issue would swing Iowa voters, because their top concern is the economy and the deficit. He pledged that Iowa’s wind energy industry would continue to flourish, whether or not there is a federal tax credit.
“I don’t think you want to read too much into this,” he said. “I think the overriding issue is clearly the mismanagement of the economy, the fact that the president’s administration is the most divisive in our history.”
Romney was introduced by Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, who has also spoken out about Romney’s position. He didn’t mention the matter, and when one of his aides was asked about it, she covered her ears with her hands, said “I can’t hear you” and walked away.
It’s unclear how much Romney’s position will hurt him. Iowa is a leading wind energy producer, but the industry only employs a few thousand people. But every ballot will be critical here. Iowa only has six electoral votes, but it is a critical battleground in this election.
“Every road to the White House runs through Iowa,” Latham said.
It’s the state that made Obama during the 2008 caucuses, and he handily won it in the general election. But success here is far less certain this time around, which is reflected by how much time the candidates are spending here.
On Monday, Obama kicks off a three-day, seven-city bus tour of Iowa. It’s an unprecedented amount of time — the president has not spent three consecutive days campaigning in any state this year.
Romney, speaking to a few hundred supporters in a stuffy high school auditorium in downtown Des Moines, spoke glowingly about the state.
“Good to be back! Des Moines almost feels like a second home, you know that,” he said. “We get here, stay downtown and get to have a bite to eat at Centro if we’re lucky and enjoy the fine food and the hospitality and the warmth of the community.”
Romney renewed an attack he first leveled Tuesday that Obama was trying to remove work requirements for welfare recipients, a subject that is hotly disputed by Democrats.
And he reiterated his five-point plan to help the middle class, drawing sustained applause when he pledged to get rid of Obama’s signature health care reform law and to tackle the nation’s deficit spending, a message that has special resonance in Iowa, where residents have the lowest per-capita credit card debt in the nation.
“I think it’s not just bad economics; I think it’s immoral ,” he said.
That was reflected among supporters here, who questioned why any industry deserves a special break.
“I think they should eliminate all tax credits. I own a small business. When it isn’t working out, no one bails me out,” said Chris Bobst, 53, of Pleasant Hill, who owns a drywall and plaster business. “I didn’t get any startup money.”