Mitt Romney in Iowa: Winning, One Slogan at a Time

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Danny Wilcox Frazier / Redux for TIME

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke to an overflow crowd in downtown Davenport, Iowa, Dec. 27, 2011.

Clinton, Iowa

As Mitt Romney enters the final stretch in Iowa, poll numbers rising, crowds appearing, the inevitability beginning to sink in, his message is honed down, lean and mean, with declarative sentences that slice the air with the flashy precision of a fruit ninja. “I love this country,” he says, as if this sets him apart. Then he adds, “I don’t want America to turn into Europe.”

No, Romney continues, “I want to make America work again.” Then he elaborates. “I want to get America working again for the middle class.” Those are subtle digs at the sitting President. But Romney is not trying to be subtle. “I’m frightened that we have a President that doesn’t understand America,” he says in Clinton, Iowa, on Wednesday afternoon. “He’s had his moment. Now is our time.” And then: “He will transform America. I will restore America.”

Everything Romney says is built for repetition, to be quoted in newspapers, in televised soundbites and seared into the national psyche. Everything is a catchphrase, a bumper sticker waiting to be printed. The lines make tweets feel long. “I don’t want class warfare to poison the American spirit,” he continues. He says Obama wants an “entitlement society” and Romney wants an “opportunity society.” He adds, “I don’t want to substitute envy for ambition.”

In Clinton, Muscatine and North Liberty, the crowds are not huge–in the low hundreds–but they overflow the small spaces Romney has booked for the events. On his second ride in the presidential campaign rodeo, the candidate no longer has to worry about introducing himself. He no longer bothers to assure voters that he is more conservative than they suspect on issues like guns, abortion and gay rights. He is a singularly focused, Obama-destroying machine. “People in Washington think it’s government that makes us strong,” he says. “It’s free people pursuing our dreams that makes us great.”

Romney’s is an effective presentation, convincing in its single-minded message. The crowds eat it up. These people want what he is promising, after all: to get rid of the sitting President. And no other candidate has yet shown that he or she can compete with Romney’s general election competitiveness. They want to win. Romney seems to have Obama’s number. “Democrats are scared,” says Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, who introduces Romney at campaign events.

But the very effectiveness of Romney’s presentation make the awkward moments that much more striking. He greets a group of seniors eating an Italian lunch in Clinton with the phrases, “Ooh, dinner looks good. I like the pizza. I like the pizza.” Or when he opens a town hall at a factory in North Liberty with a comment on the platform he is standing on. “This thing I am standing on is one of the pieces of machinery, a tool, that helps them make the various products they make out of various forms of plastic,” he says. When someone in the audience mentions Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow’s religious displays, Romney responds earnestly, “I appreciate people who are willing to stand up for their differences.”

And then there is his talk about song. He praises God Bless America. Discusses the national anthem. Repeats the lesser known verses of America the Beautiful, which he calls, “Oh, Beautiful for Spacious skies.” “Does corn qualify as amber waves of grain?” he asks off the cuff. “Not really. But you get the point.”

The audience does. This is an Obama toppler before them. He talks of an epic battle for the “core” of the country. “I want America to be more like America, again,” he declares. And the voters are coming around, he predicts, in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in swing states across the country. Obama’s days are numbered, Romney assures the crowds: “They are going to send him back to the private sector where he finally deserves to go.”

Put it on a card. Hang it on your wall. Repeat every night before bedtime. This presidency is going to end. Romney’s slogans will make it so.