Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sparred with hecklers today during an appearance at the Iowa State Fair.

Romney spoke at The Des Moines Register’s Soap Box on the fairgrounds and a small group sitting on hay bales in front of Romney asked the candidate if he would raise taxes on the wealthy.

“You ready for my answer. I’m not going to raise taxes. That’s my answer. I’m not going to raise taxes and if you want somebody who is going to raise taxes, you can vote for Barack Obama,” Romney said, as the rest of the crowd applauded. “But let me tell you what Barack Obama’s doing. Barack Obama’s killing this economy. Barack Obama is why 25 million people don’t have jobs and can’t find jobs.”

The group of protestors continued to press their case, denouncing any cuts in Social Security or Medicare. The result was a heated give-and-take with the candidate.

“You’ve had your chance. Anything else you want to say?” Romney asked.

One of the men in the group responded: “Well, I’m going to see what you’re going to say.”

Romney quickly replied: “The way this is going to work is you get to ask your question. I get to give my answer. If you don’t like my answer, you can vote for someone else, but now it’s my turn to give my answer.” 

The rest of the crowd cheered and applauded. One man nearby, an apparent Romney backer, yelled “There you go!”

Romney opened his 22-minute appearance (audio link below) at the Fair by calling President Obama a “fine fellow” who is “out of his depth” in the White House. Romney played up his own business career, saying he had “only” been Massachusetts governor for one term.  Later, during that spirited question-and-answer session, Romney again cast himself as a different kind of politician.

“When they get on the public stage, what they do is get up to the American people and promise all sorts of free stuff and say, ‘I’m going to give you this and it won’t cost anything,’ and that’s just not the truth. It’s time in America to tell people the truth. We can’t spend more than we earn year after year after year,” Romney said, as the crowd applauded.  “We can’t go to China and other nations and say, ‘Give us your money, give us your money,’ so we can spend more than we earn.”

Romney, considered the front-runner at this point in the presidential race, drew a crowd nearly as large as GOP presidential nominee John McCain drew at the fair in 2008. As Romney sparred with today’s protestors, the candidate struck an aggressive post, putting one foot on the hay bales arranged in the “Soap Box” area. He closed by speaking over the protestors. 

“I appreciate the chance to be with you. We’ve got a few folks up front who got here early to make sure that they could make their voice could be heard. My guess is they won’t be voting for me. That’s fine. We have a lot of people running for office. They won’t be voting for any of the Republicans. They can vote for President Obama,” Romney said, speaking over his detractors. “But you guys are going to be voting for the next president of the United States, a person who believes in America, a person who will balance our budget and a person who will not raise taxes and I’m that person. Thanks, guys. Great to be with ya.”

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, another GOP candidate, did a walk-by of the butter cow on the fairgrounds this morning, too.  Both former governors will be among the eight presidential candidates set to debate tonight in Ames. It will be broadcast on the FOX News Channel, starting at eight o’clock.

Two other politicians who may become candidates are due here soon. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is planning a visit to the State Fair tomorrow.  Texas Governor Rick Perry will be in Waterloo Sunday. During an interview with a Time Magazine reporter, Perry said he has decided he wants to be president.

Audio of Romney at Fair: 22 minutes



(This story was updated with additional information at 1:18 p.m.)