ALTOONA, IOWA -- With less than a week to go before the Iowa caucuses and his clear frontrunner status here long gone, Mitt Romney launched day two of his four-day, 23-stop Iowa bus tour.
First stop: the Coffee House Hollander in frigid, foggy, snow covered Altoona, a suburb north of Des Moines.
The crowd of at least 75, some seated, some standing in the back amidst reporters and camera crews, was packed inside the small coffee shop where the sounds of Elvis on the loudspeakers blended with steam blasts from the espresso machines.
Romney looked crisply casual in his well-pressed dark blue shirt and khaki pants. He did not look worse for the wear after yesterday taking shots from McCain and Huckabee over his new attack ads.
This morning, his demeanor was downright perky as he took to the center of the room and stood on a box so everyone could see him. Romney brought his wife Ann with him but the first woman he pointed out to the crowd was Diane Herndon of Bondurant, Iowa. Romney told the story of how he was running alone near Gray's Lake in Des Moines last August, going "incognito" in a hat and keeping to himself when he ran into Herndon, running in the other direction. She stopped him and asked if he was Mitt Romney and he said "well I hate it when people say that about me." He then confirmed her suspicions at which point she grabbed his hand and screamed in excitement. "And all the joggers are looking around and I'm saying it's not me, I didn't do anything," Romney recalled. Herndon then re-enacted the scream.
Romney delivered what has become his standard bus tour stump speech. He recounted how much his family has enjoyed getting to know the people of Iowa, how his son Josh has visited all 99 counties and seen everything from the world's largest frying pan to the Field of Dreams. Turning to the campaign, he again paraphrased one of Yogi Berra's famous lines that forecasting is hard to do because it involves the future.
His overall theme was sharply focused on his optimistic vision for America. He discussed the challenges facing America including immigration, national defense, terrorism, energy dependence, education, health care (his line that America doesn't need Hillarycare or socialized medicine drew applause and an "Amen!"), and global competition for jobs. He said he draws his optimism about America's future from the "heart, passion and values of the American people."
He then hit on his theme of change. "My vision for America is an optimistic one," Romney said. "I've brought change to what I've touched before. I'll bring change to Washington."
Ann made a few brief remarks focusing largely on a story about her 18-month-old grandson Parker who has attended many campaign events and apparently thinks he already is president. She also corrected her husband, to laughs, when he misspoke and said "I won't remember my friends in Iowa."
He did not take any questions but, reflecting his sunny optimism on a morning when the sun was nowhere in sight, he invited everyone to come join him at his inauguration. An optimistic view indeed, given how much ground he's lost in the polls here.