Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) – On Thursday, Mitt Romney faced the joys and political perils of a frontrunner in the Republican presidential race: at times feeling his supporters' political crush - but also fending off catcalls and heckles by critics.
The spontaneous drama at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines took several bizarre turns.
In one instance, the candidate declared "corporations are people" - a line surely to become ammunition for political opponents eager to cast Romney as a wealthy corporate raider unfamiliar with the concerns of average Americans.
At times Romney sounded populist themes, at one point saying: "If we're going to turn around the economy … Let's send some citizens to Washington." And yet, in another breath, the former Massachusetts governor defended big business against high taxes.
"Corporations are people, my friend," Romney said. "Everything a corporation earns ultimately goes to people."
Critics in the crowd laughed at Romney for the comment though his intent was unclear.
That hasn't stopped the Democratic National Committee from already seizing on the line.
"It is a shocking admission from a candidate-and a party-that shamelessly puts forward policies to help large corporations and the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class, seniors, and students," DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
In opening remarks, Romney reiterated familiar slams against President Obama.
"We're led by a man who's a fine fella. But he's out of his depth and doesn't understand how the economy works," Romney said.
It's when Romney ended his speech, and took questions from the audience, that things turned ugly.
Among the first questions shouted at Romney: "Do you support scrapping the Social Security payroll cap so that rich people pay their fair share into the trust fund?"
Romney's response: "You know there was a time in this country that we didn't celebrate attacking people based on their success. And we didn't go after people because they were successful."
Another questioner belted away at Romney.
"Sir, I am on Social Security," he said.
"My wife is on Social Security. You came here to listen to the people. How are you going to strengthen Social Security for the future?"
As the man continued to shout, Romney cut him short.
"You asked your question and now I am going to give my answer. If you don't like my answer then you can vote for someone else," Romney chastised. "But now it is my turn to give my answer."
The man later identified himself as Joe Fagan, a 71-year old former Catholic priest. He is the founder of the liberal community activist group Citizens for Community Improvement. In the past, Fagan has similarly heckled other Republican politicians.
As Romney insisted he would not raise taxes, the exchange became testy not unlike a defining moment in 1980 as then presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan demanded access to a Republican debate and at one point shouted at a moderator, "I am paying for this microphone."
In perhaps the most tense moment of the event, yet another man shouted that Romney should support scrapping the Social Security payroll cap.
"You want to raise taxes? You want to raise taxes," Romney shouted back at the man.