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.
Why not business stand own it own hind leg and hire worker?
Backing ethanol in Iowa.....now that's bold.
Uh, oh, ethanol subsidy support?
You just lost the big oil bucks and be assured, the Dick does not worship the ground upon which YOU tread.
If the subject is panderable, Romney will definitely speak out of whichever side of the mouth gets the result...
Nice picture of Romney. Crisp farmer's shirt on the outside, blue-blooded suit on the inside.
Most of these ethanol subsidy states are Repub territory, but the Repubs aren't going to fight as hard for ethanol subsidies as they do for oil company subsidies.
let's see 2 years ago Mitt was against giving aid to the American auto industry. Now that it was sucessful he wants to somehow take credit for it. You GOPers let your hate for the president blind you so much you can't see the flip-flopping going on here. Mitt is whatever makes people want to like him today. No true vision whatsoever..then well maybe tomorrow. I would LOVE to see him, Newt and Palin in a DEBATE! You could even throw in Timmy and pretty Ricky as well.
Anybody better than obama. Go Romney ,go. Last time I vote for obama and what? Nothing.
Oh plz!!! I guess he does want to talk about ANYTHING except the MA. healthcare plan, which is like POTUS. he is just another loser in a bunch of clowns the repug/tea baggers/whatever name they are using this week. Keep them coming. We Dems just love this circus they are putting on. This is better than 2008!
Republicans will ALL GLADLY talk about the importance of subsidizing corporate agribusiness venture. Taxpayers NEED to subsidize ethanol which produces an inferior fuel that is significantly harder on ANY of the engines it is put into. Taxpayers NEED to make millions for corn farmers so that they can get elected, but ask them to help grandma or little suzie get over a health problem and they will scream hysterically that it is just not America's job.
And they wonder why they have an image problem.
Romney = Say whatever is necessary, whenever necessary to get the nomination. Flip-flop as necessary.
We have become a nation of complete morons when this is the best that the party of hell no can produce as candidates for the most important job in the world.
They are liars, stupid, uneducated, cheaters. I could go on, but there are just so many hours in a day to find adjectives against these fools.
It's sad that this race will be between this flip flopper and the retarded one from AK (but I still don't think she is running for anything). She's stupid and an idiot but she hasn't got a chance in hell and this would be her third biggest loss. Her ego can only take so much before she explodes, and she will!!
next he's going to wear cutoffs and a wife beater
just to show he's one of the guys
(not the corporate a-hole he actually is)
(maybe a tatoo?)
I thought Republicans were for free enterprise..why subsidize ethanol? If the market dictates that the cheapest, best way to create ethanol is from corn then the demand for corn will increase and corn farmers will be able to sell their corn...but of course not....hypocrites.
Of course he is for it in a state that produces it. He will flip flop on that too – just he has on everything else. Who knows what Romney stands for? It changes based on where he is and who is in the audience. NOT Presidential material on any level. Neither is any other Republican candidate. Losers all.
Romney is an idiot ! Growing corn for ethanol is a waste of money its raising the cost of food beef ,pork etceteraEthanol destroys car engines, small gas tools weed whackers .blowers, edgers the engines burn out. Grow corn for food NOT ethanol
Romney the half-wit would back ethanol subsidies. More energy is wasted creating it than what you get out of it, making a net financial loss. Must be some special Mormon math he's using....oh wait, no, his pockets are just being lined.
The fact that Romney is daring to think his own thoughts & act on them makes him interesting. He ushered in a working health plan for his state & is talking alternative fuel, without trotting out natural gas, coal or nuclear power! BTW, ethanol will not cut into food supply as it is made from the by-products of corn, such as the stalks & leaves. Of course, it's not a clean energy like solar or wind. Seems Romney is heading in the right direction, maybe he can pull his reluctant- to- join- the- 21st- century co-Rep's along. One can always hope!
What are we going use to sweeten our soft drinks, amd feed the cattle.
Save Medicare by killing Medicare? Wingnuts are really desperate now that they have been busted and exposed by their lizard candidate. They are ALWAYS in favor of welfare for corporations and the rich.
Maybe i am spitballing here but in case no one else remembers obama said during his campaigne in 08 that he was for ethanol as an alternate fule source and was praised for it. a republican says it whoa its dangerous. i dont like rommney but it seems that both parties do this. obama is using just renewed 5 bills that started with gwb and is being called a genious. i wasnt a huge fan of w myself but come on america. for most pres and canidates its a matter of who was in when the wheel went round and telling you what you want to hear.
Didnt obama campaige and say almost say the same thing and was praised as a fighter for the enviromentand a genius in 08. now a rep says it and wow its a bad idea. i no rommney fan but cmon obama has renewed 5 of gwbs bills and being hailed as american herofor the recessions upward swing. the truth is as with most pres. he was there when the wheel went roundlets face our responsibility that no source of a/e will work till we cure the love of speed and spending money we cant afford to spend in plain english.
South Carollinians!! Don't believe a word Romney tells you. He switches and flips like nobody before him. Ask if he still considers Lucifer the brother of Jesus.
Can any one say " A dem in rep's clothing" ? As a life long Republican he can write off my vote, but then again he never had it.