MASON CITY, Iowa – Mitt Romney pleaded with Iowans Thursday to think seriously when they vote in next week’s Republican presidential caucuses.
“This is a process not just of putting your name on your hand next to someone you kind of like,” Romney told more than 400 supporters here at an afternoon campaign stop. “It’s also selecting who our nominee ought to be, who you think could beat Barack Obama.”
“I hope as you look at the people running you can measure their capacity to lead effectively and you can also determine whether they can become our nominee and defeat President Obama,” Romney added. “I think I can.”
The former Massachusetts governor has been making a similar pitch at each stop as he traverses Iowa, drawing large and enthusiastic crowds on his bus tour. Romney’s advisers believe he can attract fresh support from Republican voters here and nationally by presenting himself as a sort of president-in-waiting – as the strongest candidate to defeat President Obama and lead the country.
Romney came to Mason City Thursday for an event in the atrium of Music Man Square, a community venue honoring “The Music Man,” the Meredith Wilson play set in a fictional Iowa town based on Mason City.
Romney fielded a handful of questions from the audience, including from an 8-year-old who had a Romney campaign sticker on his forehead.
“You know that’s got my name on it?” Romney asked the boy.
Then the boy, Ben Navratil, whose father, an excavator, supported former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee over Romney in the 2008 caucuses, summoned the courage to ask his question.
“Is it hard running for the president?” he asked.
“Thank you,” Romney replied. “And that’s a darn good question. And the answer is yes, and no. Ha ha ha. Sounds like a politician. I apologize.”
Romney said it is hard for him to wake up so early in the morning – well before dawn each day on his Iowa bus tour – and sleeping in “a strange bed” almost every night.
“One hotel after the other,” he said. “We were in the Hampton Inn last night. I don’t know where we are tonight. Who knows where we are? I’d rather not tell you. You’ll be there getting signatures. And so it’s a different hotel in different nights and sometimes you don’t sleep so well.”
On Tuesday night, for instance, Romney parked his bus in the parking lot of a Fairfield Inn.
“I think we were off of Interstate 80 or one of the other interstates, and the trucks going by and every now and then one of the drivers liked me and would pull his horn,” Romney said. “And so we had a hard time getting to sleep.”
But Romney called running for president the “greatest opportunity” to expand his network of friends and meeting people around the country.
“If you get the chance to do it,” he told the boy, “make sure and do it. Win or lose, it’s a great thing to do.”