By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa -- Mitt Romney, debuting a new pitch to Iowa voters in the final sprint to Thursday's caucuses, cast himself today as the King Midas of change.
"I've brought change to everything I've touched," Romney declared at the first stop of a five-day bus tour across Iowa. "And I'm going to bring change to American to make sure we overcome the challenges we face and we're an even stronger, great nation going forward."
US Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan introduced Romney to about two dozen voters and nearly as many reporters inside a café in this conservative, heavily Dutch-American farming community. Romney said there was a reason he had brought Hoekstra along with him.
"He has a few ties because there's a certain Dutch-American population that knows Congressman Pete Hoekstra very, very well," Romney said. " And his tie here has meant a great deal to me in being able to reach out in Northwest Iowa."
Romney spoke for about 20 minutes and took no questions -- allowing him to keep to a new faster--paced schedule during the multi-stop bus tour. He touted himself as a leader in business, the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, and as Massachusetts governor. Ann Romney spoke about her husband's softer side, saying he had supported her in her darkest days battling multiple sclerosis and raising their five sons.
Jim Kelly, 67, a corn, soybean, and hog farmer, said he was impressed with Romney but still undecided about whom to support.
"If he can get elected in Massachusetts and fix their health care system, he's got a leg up on some of the others," Kelly said after listening to Romney.
But he said his caucus precinct would probably support Romney's chief rival in Iowa, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is leading in the polls. Kelly noted that his caucus supported anti-abortion activist Gary Bauer in 2000.
"They're all hard, Christian conservatives," Kelly said.