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Romney in Iowa: "I Support the Subsidy of Ethanol"

Romney in Iowa: "I Support the Subsidy of Ethanol"

By Scott Conroy - May 27, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa -- On his first trip back to the nation's first voting state as a soon-to-be declared presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reaffirmed his support for federal ethanol subsidies -- an always important campaign issue in Iowa that figures to take on an even more central role in the divided GOP field.

"I support the subsidy of ethanol," Romney told a potential voter after an event here was cut short by a fire alarm. "I believe ethanol is an important part of our energy solution in this country."

Support for ethanol subsidies has long been considered a political necessity for candidates who want to succeed in the Iowa caucuses, but former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty tested that maxim on Monday during his official campaign announcement here.

"The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out," Pawlenty said. "We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it."

Pawlenty was widely praised in fiscally conservative circles for taking a stance against the subsidies, which cost taxpayers about $5 billion in 2010, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been singled out for criticism by influential conservative media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal editorial board, for his vocal support of subsidized ethanol.

Romney supported ethanol subsidies during his unsuccessful 2008 presidential run, in which he largely banked on winning the Iowa caucuses but finished a disappointing second to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

In the first two of his three scheduled Iowa appearances on Friday, Romney was peppered with questions about his commitment to the 2012 caucuses and was asked more than once why he's chosen New Hampshire, rather than the Hawkeye State, as the venue where he will officially announce his candidacy on Thursday.

Romney noted that New Hampshire was "next door" to his campaign headquarters in Boston.

"I'm fully committed to Iowa and the process," Romney told reporters, adding that he and his political team had not yet settled on a strategy as to how he will spend his time and resources and whether he would participate in the August straw poll in Ames.

Still, it was clear that Romney intended to downplay the social issues that were a major staple of his Iowa campaign throughout 2007, instead speaking almost exclusively about jobs and the economy and his decades of experience in the private sector.

Dressed in a Brooks Brothers button-down shirt and blue jeans (he later changed into khakis), Romney had a little more gray sprinkled into his famously well-coifed hair than he did the last time he campaigned here, but he appeared just as energized and eager to engage with both voters and the media as he did the last time around.

However, his campaign entourage was noticeably smaller than the one he typically travelled with in the last cycle. "These are lean times," Romney said. "We've got a lean campaign."

Romney will spend Friday night in Cedar Rapids after attending a local GOP picnic in the eastern Iowa city.

 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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