By Jennifer Jacobs
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney believes that if he were to become the nominee, he could win Iowa in the general election, as well as several of the major swing states, his home state of Michigan and even Massachusetts, the Democratic stronghold where he was governor.
Asked in a Des Moines Register interview which states he could put in play that no other GOP candidate could, Romney answered: "I'm not, at this stage, a general election campaign strategist."
He paused for thought, then launched into an optimistic recitation of the states he has confidence in claiming if he's selected as the nominee: Michigan, Nevada, Iowa, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania.
"If I'm effective about communicating my message about growing the economy and creating jobs, then I'll be able to pick up a lot of states where the economy is in trouble," Romney said Thursday during a three-city campaign tour in Iowa, his first visit here since August.
The blue state of Michigan could become a red state if he were on the 2012 ballot, he said, "because of my dad's reputation there and my long affection for the auto industry and for the state."
He added, "I haven't lived in Michigan since I was 19 years old, but it's still the place of my birth and upbringing and a place where my dad's reputation will be better than mine ever is."
As for the state where he was governor from 2003-07, Romney said: "I think I've got a good shot at getting Massachusetts. It's a very Democrat state, and I think the polls would say that would be a very uphill climb, but I might just make a real effort in Massachusetts."
Romney said he would also have to win the traditional swing states like Florida and Ohio to be able to win the White House.
"I'd like to be able to win Pennsylvania," Romney said. "I think we can do that, we've got a Republican governor now, Republican senator."
Iowa political strategist Jerry Crawford, a Democrat, said it's short-sighted to think Romney would win Michigan -- or Iowa either, where rival GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain is surging in the polls.
"The fact is that the Republicans have spent more time in Iowa than any other state," and President Barack Obama continues to fare well against them in poll matchups in Iowa, Crawford said. "Which means Iowa has taken measure of these people and found them wanting with regard to the presidency."
The notion of Romney winning Massachusetts is ridiculous, said Crawford, a Des Moines lawyer.
"Massachusetts is where Romneycare has left the state in a huge budget hole," Crawford said.
"If Mitt Romney is counting on Iowa, Michigan and Massachusetts to be president, well, then we're in much stronger shape than I thought we were."
China is 'cheating'
Romney said China is cheating because it undervalues its yuan to give Chinese companies a price advantage in international markets. He said he wants punitive tariffs on some Chinese products, and he would label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, has said he believes such a strategy would bring a trade war.
"I'm not willing to endure a trade surrender," Romney said. "China has manipulated their currency to put their exported products at an unfair advantage in the United States and around the world and that has cost millions of American jobs. Allowing that to continue is not an option."
He said he hasn't spoken with Boehner, so "I don't know that we disagree."
A China proposal recently approved by the Democrat-led U.S. Senate "doesn't give the president any new powers that the president doesn't already have," Romney said.
Iowa's governor and lieutenant governor have both been on trade missions to China this year. Iowa's agricultural leaders hope to increase exports to this emerging market. Last year, Iowa exported a higher value of products to China than to all but three other countries (trailing Canada, Mexico and Japan).
Romney has hovered around 22 to 25 percent in Iowa polls, leading some to question whether he can break through that ceiling.
"I'd say go back and look at polls of past years of other races," Romney said in response.
"I don't think at this point it's very likely for anyone to have more than 25 or 30 percent. I think the people who win the Iowa caucus usually win it with what, 30 or 35 percent? So you don't have to get 80 percent of Iowans to win the caucuses."
Repeating sentiments he expressed during his last visit to Iowa, on Aug. 11, Romney said he hopes to do well here. "It would always be nice to win in every state. I recognize that that's not terribly likely, but I will hopefully do well in every state, including Iowa," he said.
Swipe at rival
Romney drew a claw on rival Rick Perry, who has been governor of Texas for 10 years and was first elected to public office in 1984.
"I certainly believe that what's distinctive about my candidacy is the fact that I spent my life in the private sector, not in government," he said. "I think it would be very hard for a career politician to beat career politician Barack Obama. He's just that good of a politician."
The Romney campaign on Thursday launched a new website, CareerPolitician.com, that blasts Perry's support for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, Perry's job creation record and other points.
"(Obama) will attack me for any failures in business," Romney said, "and I will point out that he doesn't understand how business works."
Earlier this month, Romney's religion was thrust into the headlines when a pastor who introduced Perry at a conservative gathering said Romney is not a Christian and is in a cult because he is a Mormon. Perry has said repeatedly since then that he doesn't agree with the pastor's remarks.
Asked Thursday how his faith would inform day-to-day decisions as president, Romney said: "The Judeo-Christian principles of my faith and my upbringing cause me to favor total honesty, service for others, love of country, and the recognition of America's exceptional role in the world.
"I say that because America was founded on a unique and extraordinary principle, and that is that the creator endowed all human beings with certain inalienable rights."
Payroll tax credit
During a recent debate, when discussing a proposal to extend a payroll tax credit that averages $1,500 for the typical family, Romney said he doesn't like temporary fixes.
Iowa Democrats have hit Romney hard for that position, saying it would "take money out of the pockets of middle-class families."
Romney laughed at that.
"Given the fact I'm proposing a permanent tax reduction for the middle class, they don't know what they're talking about," he said. "What I'm pointing out is that another stimulus bill is not the answer to get Americans working again."
Romney said he wants to allow people who earn under $200,000 a year to save their money without being taxed on interest, dividends or capital gains.
"That's not a break for the rich, that's a break for the middle class, and no amount of obfuscation will hide the fact from the American public that my plan lowers taxes on middle-income Americans permanently."