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.
Romney, the cure for insomnia...
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.
Of course, he supports the subsidies... while a candidate. He will tell each electorate what they want to hear... until he's confronted with reality. Flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop, ...
Now this is funny - corn and burnt popcorn! Romney, for all the criticism he is getting from the GOP for his state's health insurance law (which is working to reduce costs BTW folks), is stepping way outside the small GOP "yester-year" box and actually looking like his ideas may have merit for the country's tomorrow. Interesting candidate who is not playing the PARTY LINE, I hope he can stay the course so we have an intelligent presidential race and not the same old GOP smear campaign.
thats about a stupid as it gets is ethanol.... food for fuel....stupid... we should be converting to natural gas.. grow grain to sale to the world to eat .... have american natural gas make by american workers... then we can tell the middle east to stick it....
He just lost my vote in the primary. He will have it if he gets to the general election.
What's with the corporate subsidies/welfare? Anybody who checks into ethanol as an "industry" knows this a wasteful sad joke and an environmental nightmare – not profitable (except for the government subsidies) or sustainable. The corn uses loads of expensive oil based fertilizer and pesticides, and diverts corn from feeding people.
It’s just a cash cow (pay-back) for Republicorp insiders. So of course Romney is for ending medi-care/medi-caid (and social security if he could) so we can fund corporate subsidies & therefore corporate profits.
He's a Republicorp candidate – of course he's for expanding corporate welfare.
ethanol??? These people are supposed to be smart. Smart enough to run a country. Well I'm just a regular girl, but even I know that ethanol is not the answer. Why? Because it pushes up the price of corn, which in turn effects the price of food. If you're going to give a subsidy of any kind; give it to those doing research on renewalbe sources of energy that aren't on the commodities market and won't take up valuable farm land that's needed for food....or do something like Brazil did with fuel from sugar cane. Why can't these politians think outside of the box?????
I'm a lifelong student of professional politics and I DO NOT EVEN KNOW where Romney stands on issues. His stances on various issues must have something to do with the phases of the moon. I still can't tell.
With all the people in the world starving, we don't need to be turning food into fuel for our "gas-hogs"
We need to subsidize clean energy development (not big oil) and get out of all the blood for oil wars we've been put in over the years.
If you want another George W. Bush or Koch Brothers running the country, vote for Texas Governor Rick Perry and you will also get the grand prize to sucede the U.S. from the U.S.
Romey can say anything to get the nomination and get crushed by President Obama, the world's strongest President on earth.
Romney, but where do you stand on subsidies to big oil, the fleecing of America by oil companies who mare taking massive billion dollar profits each and every month in a time of economic crisis, medicare cuts, gays in the military, the rights of workers to organize, students needing education, immigration, tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, jobs programs – where are the Republican's plans for jobs that they ran on in '10? We haven't seen even the most minute effort on their behalf to work on jobs since '10 or before. Not a thing! Where do you stand Mitt & how do you feel about the non-action within your party?
His Massachusetts Health care Is a failure, Ethanol is a failure and his attempt to impersonate a Conservative is a Failure. Goodbye Mitt,I mean Willard.
Romney, the cure for insomnia...
Obama, The cure for prosperity and any chance of a bright future for our country...
Subsidizing anything is BS. If it can't make it on it's own (oil included) then we don't need it.
A vote for Obama is a vote for Biden. With Biden who needs Wikileaks.
Interesting how the federal government is wiping it's hands of Texas. The democrats are literally shoving under the bus everyone that doesn't agree with them.
I will not vote for anyone who thinks the Government should subsidize Agriculatural applications into the Energy industries. Bad for cars, bad for everyone except corn farmers. Let's find a real source for corn and get over this entanol give away.
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.
Only the brave will stand up for alternative energy and the politics as usual crowd will say yes to federal ethanol subsidies.
Romney is a wimp and will say what is popular to the corporate elite, any country that does not invest right now in alternative energy will be in the economic basement for eternity. Alternative energy is the only answer and ethanol is an enviromental disaster waiting to happen with the poison and pesticides used to grow this product. Alternative energy is the only hope for long term, and ethanol is short term with disasterous results.
Yup, he's backing ethanol subsidies.. today. Tune in tomorrow to find out his new position on the issue.
Now let's see. Romney was going to ignore the Iowa caucuses where he is enormously unpopular. Then, just 2 days ago Pawlenty who is competing in Iowa announces that he is against ethanol subsidies. 48 hours later and where is Romney?
Romney is wherever he senses an opening, saying whatever the polls and the analysts say he has to. He is Trump with more hair.
Romney says he knows how to create jobs. It's based on Mormon creation myth: "Let there be jobs and there are jobs."
Ethanol takes more gasoline to produce than it replaces, but Romney is for subsidizing it with tax dollars and increasing the national debt because it buys him votes. Some conservative.
When are you going to ask Mitt why none of his four sons volunteered for military service ?
Romney = the ultimate "Flip Flopper."