Former presidential nominee Mitt Romney came back to Iowa Friday to convince some old friends to vote for Joni Ernst, one of five Republicans running for U.S. Senate.
“In a place like this, there are a few folks who know me pretty well,” Romney said after a 40-minute appearance with Ernst Friday morning in Cedar Rapids.
“This part of the state was particularly supportive of me in my primary campaigns and I have warm feelings not just for the river, but for the people.”
Romney, who finished second in Iowa’s 2012 caucuses, worked the room in Veteran’s Memorial Building, shaking hands and posing for pictures. He bent to hug a tiny lady with curly white hair. Ernst, petite, even in heels, couldn’t be seen over the crowd of raised cell phone cameras, but Romney’s tan face and white smile were familiar on his first trip back to Iowa since 2012.
Romney, who said he’s not interested in running again for president, first endorsed Ernst in March.
The self-described “mother, soldier and proven conservative” from Red Oak has the best chance of claiming another Senate seat for Republicans, he said.
“She’s a real Iowan,” he said. “She didn’t just sit home and needlepoint, don’t you know. She was doing some real work, squealing work.”
The audience of about 60 laughed at the reference to Ernst’s popular commercial in which she talks about castrating hogs and promises to “make ‘em squeal” in Washington, D.C.
Romney also mentioned Ernst’s role as a lieutenant in the Iowa Army National Guard, where she led 149 soldiers into Iraq in 2003 and later commanded the largest battalion in the guard. Ernst has been a state senator since 2011.
“Joni Ernst will shake things up in Washington,” Romney said.
Bypassing comparisons with four other Republicans vying for the GOP nod, Ernst contrasted herself with U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Waterloo Democrat she would face in the general election if she wins Tuesday’s Republican primary.
“Bruce Braley voted for one of the largest tax increases in U.S. history,” she said. “I have pushed through and passed the largest tax decrease. It will save Iowans $4.4 billion over the next 10 years.”
Ernst said she would like to replace the U.S. tax code, repeal the Affordable Care Act and bring some of Iowa’s economic success to Washington, D.C. The message resonated with the crowd, several of whom were wearing Ernst’s “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal!” T-shirts.
“I think she has a lot of enthusiasm. She generates a passion among the people,” said Michele DeBlieck, 65, of Manchester. “She believes in hard work and putting the people first and not the government.”
Ernst was leading the five-way race in a recent Loras College Poll. The May 12-13 survey of 600 likely Republican primary voters showed 30.8 percent favored Ernst. Mark Jacobs, a West Des Moines former energy company CEO, was second with 19.3 percent.
The other Republican candidates are Matt Whitaker, a former U.S. Attorney from Ankeny; Scott Schaben, a sales professional from Ames; and Sam Clovis, a college professor from Sioux City.
Romney’s endorsement isn’t the only high-profile nod Ernst has received. Former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin endorsed Ernst in March and recently, Ronald Reagan’s son, Michael Reagan, announced his support for the candidate.
Another of her early supporters, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds started off the Cedar Rapids event by encouraging the audience to drum up votes before Tuesday’s primary.
“We have to do everything we can to get her across the finish line,” Reynolds said of Ernst. “We need to make sure she’s successful on Tuesday.”
Romney and Ernst were expected to make stop in Davenport on Friday afternoon.
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