Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made his first 2011 campaign swing into Iowa, site of the first presidential caucuses next year.
He got off to a less than picture-perfect start, though, trying to focus on economic issues but facing questions about his commitment to competing in the state where he spent heavily but finished second to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008.
Romney will formally announce his candidacy in New Hampshire next week, but he was all about Iowa Friday, kicking off his campaign in a nondescript building in a nondescript business park in the city of Ankeny. Romney sat at a small table at a software company called AgVision and chatted with employees about the agriculture business.
Afterward, the candidate talked to reporters gathered in the parking lot, highlighting his credentials as a businessman, and saying, "When it comes to the economy and jobs for the American people, President Obama has failed."
Then, he moved on to the main event of the day at the Iowa Historical Building in Des Moines, where he chatted with voters about how great it was to be back in the state, even saying once, "It's good to be home — It's not exactly home, but it felt like it last time I was around."
Romney gave a 20 minute speech, followed by a Q&A session, where most of the questions were about his failure to win the Iowa caucuses last time and his hints he won't invest as much time and money in the state this time.
But Romney said he'd be putting in plenty of both: "You'll see me more than you'll like in Iowa."
He was asked if he'll participate in the August straw poll in Ames, an iconic political event that coincides with the Iowa State Fair. Romney wouldn't commit — and the questions about his standing in the state went on.
Then about halfway through the scheduled length of the Q&A session, one of his answers ("I'm the same guy — it's just that the things I know — uh, oh...") was cut short by a fire alarm.
The alarm shut off.
"If we need to go," he added, "I'll let you know I wasn't just doing that to avoid tough questions."
Then the alarm started again. The crowd slowly exited.
Romney posed for pictures and signed autographs outside before heading to his next event at a farm near Cedar Rapids.