Romney Heads to Iowa, Noting Uncertainty in GOP Race
By Alec MacGillis
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Wistfulness is not an emotion one associates with Mitt Romney, who is as likely to betray doubt as he is to leave a shirttail untucked, but there was a hint of it in the air today as he bid farewell to several dozen close supporters gathered here before heading to Iowa for a final week of campaigning there leading up to the Jan. 3. caucus.
It was a more significant moment than one would have imagined just a month ago, when Romney, after investing considerable time and money in New Hampshire and Iowa, was holding on to a steady lead in the polls in both states, and when the only question seemed to be whether his presumptive wins in those two states would launch his candidacy nationwide. Today, his early state strategy is in peril, with an out-of-nowhere Mike Huckabee threatening him in Iowa and a resurgent John McCain threatening him in New Hampshire.
Romney noted the remarkable uncertainty in the Republican field, saying, "There's a lot of speculation right now about who's going to get the nomination ... and I'm not ready to predict the outcome." He lingered longer than he usually does in his New Hampshire stump speech about his feelings for the state.
And he offered what appeared to be intended as a kind of closing argument for his candidacy, though it amounted essentially an elaboration on his usual stump speech: that America is inherently strong, and that all it needs is a leader with the background and ability to reinforce what Romney sees as the three underpinnings of that basic fortitude--strong families, a strong economy, and strong military. Without naming names, he suggested that some of his rivals have an overly dour view of the current political moment, and cast himself as the Reaganesque optimist in the race, the candidate of "tomorrow" rather than "yesterday."
"When you look at the [country's] challenges, there are some people who are pessimistic when they look at it. I am not," Romney said. "I am convinced that America is not built by individuals who are doubters but by people who are dream makers, and Americans have great dreams."
It was his "unique experience" having been brought up in the family he was, being successful in the business, and governing Massachusetts that had prepared him for the job of protecting the country's fundamentally sound values, he said. ("I won't embarrass you in the White House," he said, without adding which of his rivals might in fact do so.)
His conclusion: "Americans rill rise to the occasion time and time again as we always have. It's time to replace our sense of concern and pessimism with a sense of optimism about the future. Because America's future is going to be bright, I'm convinced of that."
Romney did not address the challenges faced by his own campaign, leaving it to his wife Ann to assure the crowd that the Romneys had faced adversity before and overcome it, in the form of her struggles with multiple sclerosis. She described in greater detail than she often does on the trail just what bad shape she was in after getting her diagnosis in 1998 and growing quickly debilitated, around the time Romney was asked to run the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and before her condition began to improve.
"I remember having a good deal of depression, being so overwhelmed with the fatigue that was now part of my life," she said. "And I remember Mitt giving me hope and encouragement, saying, 'Don't worry, tomorrow will be a better day.'"
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