Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) – In an appeal to middle America on Tuesday, Mitt Romney compared the national debt to a rapidly growing fire hurtling across a prairie.
The presumptive GOP nominee warned Iowa voters they cannot ignore the swelling "crisis of debt and spending that threatens what it means to be an American" during a speech at a hotel in Des Moines.
– Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker
– Follow Rachel Streitfeld on Twitter: @StreitfeldCNN
"A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and across the nation and every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and the children we love," Romney said.
Though Romney gave his speech in a state where, only months ago, the Republican presidential candidates battled for the support of conservative caucus-goers, on this trip Romney made an apparent bid for independent voters in the general election battleground.
"Subprime mortgages, they came close to bringing the economy to its knees. This debt is America's Nightmare Mortgage," he said, placing blame for the debt upon both parties. "It is adjustable, no-money down, and assigned to our children. Politicians have been trying to hide the truth about this Nightmare Mortgage for years–just like liar-loans."
He continued: "The time has come for a president, a leader, who will lead. I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno. We will stop borrowing unfathomable sums of money we can't even imagine, from foreign countries we'll never even visit. I will bring us together to put out the fire."
The presumptive GOP nominee criticized President Barack Obama for his stimulus program and his signature health care law, and called for a "simpler, smaller, smarter" federal government.
Romney nodded to his business background, and proposed moving some functions now performed by the federal government back to states or the private sector.
The speech was Romney's first appearance in Iowa since the state's first-in-the-nation caucus, where the former Massachusetts governor finished a close second to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.