Mitt Romney: Surprise Hit in Iowa

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One of the up-and-coming presidential candidates made a significant first trip to Iowa since throwing a hat into the increasingly crowded ring.

As the candidate spent the day talking with Hawkeye fans from Waterloo to Dubuque while campaigning at sports bars, making the mandatory ethanol factory visit, and shaking countless hands in between, one thing became clear: This candidate has buzz.

Does this sound like Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.? Wrong.

Try former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

While the New York senator ultimately garnered most of the headlines Monday morning, most noting her "evil men" joke, Romney's trip to Iowa Friday gathered hundreds of supporters in this key primary state.

'Worth a Second Look'

Throughout the day, Romney presented himself as a personable, smart candidate, hoping to "convince a few people that [he's] somebody who's worth giving a second look."

Stopping at Beck's Restaurant in Waterloo, the "few people" turned out to be more than 200, and they didn't just come for the free food.

Romney's day continued at an ethanol plant where he highlighted the need for the United States to adopt alternative technologies. "As a nation we need to support the development of new technologies," he said as he toured the plant, "and the adoption of new technologies, so we can free ourselves from the nonmarket OPEC stranglehold on energy in this country."

'I Like Stem Cell Research'

And as the day of campaigning continued, Romney's comments turned decidedly personal when he spoke about stem cell research. Ann Romney, the former governor's wife, has multiple sclerosis. "In my view, the fact that my wife has MS makes me particularly aware of and sensitive to the fact that we have high hopes that stem sell research or other forms of research will lead to cures."

"I like stem cell research. I want to see more of it, not less. I'm in favor of using surplus embryos from in vitro fertilizations for stem cell research. But I'm not in favor of creating new embryos to destroy them or to experiment with them."

But while the day was a success, it also became clear that Romney has to pin down his answers on some tricky questions in the next few months.

Most notably, Romney's views on abortion have undergone a transformation since he ran for the Senate against incumbent Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994. During the October 1994 debate, Romney explained his views on abortion. "As a nation we recognize the right of all people to believe as they want," he said, "and not to impose our beliefs on other people. I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country."

At the time, Romney said his beliefs stemmed from the experience of a family friend who'd died from an illegal abortion. Even more recently, running for governor in 2002, Romney said, "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard."

But in an interview with Romney on Friday, it was clear he had changed his views significantly. "Well, we learn from experience, and I'm just like other people in this nation. … My experience as a governor facing issues related to issues like stem cell research … has convinced me that Roe v. Wade has so cheapened the value of human life in this society that we need to allow the states more latitude in making their own decisions on this issue. And so about two years ago, I said [I] am pro life, and prior to that time I had a different position.

"When Ronald Reagan was governor of California," he explained, "[Reagan] signed the most-sweeping pro abortion law in the entire nation. And when he ran for president he said, you know, I was wrong."

Yet, it might ultimately be Romney's religion that poses the biggest hurdle. A December ABC News polls shows that 35 percent of Americans are less likely to vote for a candidate who is a Mormon. Romney, for one, doesn't seem worried. "I think the American people respect individuals of faith. That's the kind of person they want to lead the country."

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