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COUNCIL BLUFFS — Republican Mitt Romney sat down with farmers Friday and cut down President Barack Obama during his third campaign stop here since he began his presidential run last year.
Romney accused Obama of being out of touch with Americans and the struggles they face in today's economy, while agreeing with five Iowa farmers that federal regulations are stifling the nation's small businesses.
The former Massachusetts governor took issue with Obama's statement that the “private sector is doing fine.”
Romney said Obama was “detached” from economic reality, citing numerous statistics to show the economy is still in the doldrums, with 23 million Americans out of work and home foreclosures at a record high.
“Is he really that out of touch?” he asked at a rally in Bayliss Park.
Romney was only one of many Republicans who pounced on Obama's statement, made during a press conference Friday morning.
Obama was arguing that the nation's private sector had turned from losing jobs to adding jobs — 4.3 million over the past 27 months — but that it was state and local governments that were having trouble.
The president said: “Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government, oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same kind of flexibility of the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming.”
Later in the afternoon, Obama clarified his statement.
“It is absolutely clear the economy is not doing fine — that's the reason I had the press conference,” he said. However, he said he had noted that corporations have been making record profits, “so that has not been the greatest drag on the economy.”
However, Romney isn't likely to ignore Obama's original statement on the campaign trail.
“For the president of the United States to stand up and say the private sector is doing fine is going to go down in history as an extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding by a president who's out of touch,” Romney said.
Romney and Obama are both aggressively competing for Iowa's six electoral votes. Iowa is one of 11 swing states that are expected to decide this year's presidential election.
Romney stuck to a purely economic message during his Iowa stops, saying his goal was to create “jobs, jobs and jobs.”
About 400 people gathered for the rally, include one protester who shouted “Liar! Liar!” throughout Romney's speech. The crowd tried to drown him out with the chant “Go, Mitt, go!”
Before the rally, Romney attended a gathering with five farmers at the Main Street Cafe. He listened as they talked about concerns with federal regulations and the growing debt.
Tom Oswald, a fourth-generation farmer from Cleghorn, said his ancestors came here because they had a “dream.” He said increased government regulations and the rising national debt could stifle future dreamers.
He argued that federal regulations are often extreme.
“So often, the (federal) regulators' approach is black and white, A or B. It's the gray area in the middle that allows people to find the sweet spot,” Oswald said.
Romney agreed, saying the Interstate system couldn't be built today with stringent federal regulations such as the Endangered Species Act. He promised, if elected, to return “common sense” to federal regulations.
“Sometimes regulators forget they are the servants of the people and not the sovereign of the people,” Romney said.
Several people at the rally said Romney — who has been said to be stiff and awkward on the campaign trail — appeared to be hitting his stride.
Ted Hoff, 72, a retired ophthalmologist, has attended two other Romney events and said this was his best speech to date. Hoff said Romney appeared more “relatable,” talking about the issues that matter most to people, including jobs and the economy.
“He presented his ideas in a logical and coherent manner,” Hoff said. “Once they hear him, I think people will develop trust in him.”
Heather Coffelt of Council Bluffs said Romney will have a “tough fight” against the president, but she said he can win. It was “great to see the energy today,” Coffelt said.
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