Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) - It was perhaps inevitable that on his first visit to Iowa as a likely presidential candidate, Mitt Romney couldn't avoid corn.
He fiddled with a corn cob at his first event Friday, a tour of an agriculture software business in Ankeny. He endorsed ethanol subsidies, marking a split with one of his chief rivals for the Republican nomination. And a midday forum near the state capital was cut short when a fire alarm was triggered – by a bag of burnt microwave popcorn.
Corn was a seemingly inescapable topic, but the ever-disciplined Romney did not stray from the economic message that is certain to define his presidential campaign, set to be officially announced next week in New Hampshire.
"The issue that most Americans are concerned about happens to be in my wheelhouse," Romney boasted.
Romney criticized President Obama's handling of the economic recovery, blaming him for creating a climate of uncertainty for small business owners. He said his private sector experience gives him a better understanding of how to create jobs.
But Iowans were also closely watching Romney's return to the state for clues about his campaign strategy. The leadoff caucus state dealt a fatal blow to his campaign in 2008 when he finished in second place to Mike Huckabee, despite pouring millions of dollars into winning the state.
Romney's advisers have since telegraphed that his 2012 campaign will focus less on Iowa and more on the next state in the nominating process, New Hampshire, where Romney owns a house and leads early presidential polls by a wide margin.
Reporters and voters alike nevertheless pressed Romney on his Iowa plans, and he came well prepared.
Romney said his return to Iowa felt like "coming home" and promised to be a frequent visitor in the months ahead.
"You will see me more than you like, I'm afraid, in Iowa," Romney said during a forum at the State Historical Building in Des Moines. "I will be here plenty and you will get to know what I stand for. Iowa plays a critical role in the process of selecting our nominee and selecting our president."
But Iowa's role in the nominating process, he told reporters, "will probably be defined over time by different candidates in different ways."
Romney promised to run a "lean" campaign in 2012 and said his strategy would not hinge on any single state.
He deflected questions about the Ames Straw Poll, a crucial test of each campaign's Iowa organization that will take place in August. Romney spent heavily to win the straw poll vote in the summer of 2007.
"We are going to do what we think is best calculated for me to become the nominee and for me to win the White House," he said at the forum. "I can't tell you right now which things we will participate in."
The comment came moments before someone's overheated popcorn bag set off the fire alarm and broke up the event, forcing Romney and a throng of reporters into the street, where he shook hands, posed for pictures and signed campaign signs leftover from his 2008 run.
Romney was immediately approached by a woman demanding to know why he plans to announce his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, instead of Iowa.
"We fight so hard against New Hampshire for the first caucus, and you won't announce here," she complained. Romney ignored her and moved away, but not before the woman gave him a pat on his backside.
Another voter asked him directly if he backs federal subsidies for ethanol, an endlessly divisive issue pitting Iowa's corn-heavy agriculture industry against fiscal conservatives who view the subsidies as a wasteful government handout.
Romney immediately endorsed them.
"I support the subsidy of ethanol," he answered. "I believe ethanol is an important part of our energy solution in this country."
That position differs from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said earlier in the week during his presidential announcement in Des Moines that he supports phasing out ethanol subsidies.
Romney is slated to attend a Republican Party picnic in Cedar Rapids on Friday evening.
They all bunch of nonsense, but Dems are better than them....Al least they are recuperating that mess made by Texan Thug...GOP idiots...how about that????
And I thought the GOP/Tea Party were all about letting the free markets work themselves out. Another proof the GOP will say anything to get elected and then screw the middle class.
The US of A will be a much better place when the US government takes a step back and lets the free market be free.
Bye Bye Mitch........one down. Oh, I also wouldn't vote for anyone even remotely tied to the Demogogic Party. Insanity is contagious in that Party.
Ok.......Why even post your comment? Do you just want to see your comments in print, just to confirm to the world, "duh...I don't stand for anything"
Pick a side or spare us your inabilities!
Reviewing all the GOP "contenders" all that can be said is we are in deep poop if we don't have Obama in the White House for a second term. They are all spineless suck-ups to the wealthy elitists and corporations.
Mittens apparently supports more corporate welfare for burning food as fuel. There are so many things wrong with this it's hard to decide where to begin. At least one thing is clear, though: Mitten remains another cultist corporate welfare queen worshipping his failed ideology of tax cuts for the filthy rich, deregulation and welfare for corporations rather than a safety net for the poor and middle class.
What happened to the GOP philosophy of Drill Baby Drill? Now it's all about renewables or which direction the wind is blowing. They are grasping and sounding more and mroe desparate.
RomneyCare and now support for ethanol subsidies. Romney is beginning to sound more like a Democrat than a 'cut spending' conservative. If he backs some of the obscene regulations by the EPA, he will sabotage his own campaign. Can't support a waffleing candidate.
John "loosk like a used car salesman smile. They all promise this and that, but all bets are off once elected. The all live in Ignoreland."
You mean like Obama?
The Ethanol Subsidies support will be an issue for me with Romney. Ethanol has not lived up to its promises in this country – it has increased the price of food by 10 -15% while only impacting the environment by about 1% for the better. Land use changes will further erode its affect on the environment wiping out that insignificant improvement seen to date. It would cost the taxpayers less to import ethanol from Brazil where they have a much better track record of employment created by the industry, more affective land use and a greater positive impact on the environment.
Romney supporting it to gain the corn states approval is not something I want to see – the truth must be told to the country without political spin.
For those of you who think that Obama doesn't support Ethanol Subsidies.......
28 Apr 2010 5:26 PM With subsidies in the balance, Obama speaks up for ethanol
"President Barack Obama on Wednesday touted ethanol–both the current variety and next-wave fuels–as a key part of his energy strategy and a way to revive rural economies.
Obama endorsed expanded ethanol production during a speech at a Macon, Missouri plant owned by POET, the country's largest ethanol producer.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems bent on carving out a special niche for ethanol, with the Environmental Protection Agency moving forward with an initiative to increase the amount of ethanol blended in fuels from 10% to 15%. Coming from Illinois, a major corn-producing state, Obama's position is not surprising and is consistent with his position as a senator when he was one of five signers of a letter to President George W. Bush urging him not to repeal the tariff on foreign ethanol. Forbes.com
Those of you who think it is only Republican who support ethanol subsidies, you might need to do a little research and quit listening to the spin of the pundits.