Romney gets feisty in Iowa, but hands rivals an opportunity in the process

Few would have used the word "scrappy" to describe Mitt Romney four years ago, but in an appearance today at the Iowa State Fair, the former Massachusetts governor attempted to project a new, more confident image, as he mixed it up with several unfriendly fairgoers who challenged his position on entitlements and taxes.

Yet, in the process, Romney may have helped his political opponents, delivering a sound bite that is sure to haunt his 2012 campaign.

During an appearance at the fair's annual "soapbox," where politicians speak to fairgoers, a fired up Romney engaged in a combative back and forth with hecklers over funding for Social Security and Medicare and whether cuts to those programs should be included in talks over how to reduce the federal deficit.

Romney insisted he wouldn't raise taxes, but one heckler interrupted arguing for a rollback on tax breaks for corporations.

"Corporations are people, my friend," Romney declared, as hecklers interrupted. "Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people."

(You can watch the heated exchange here via C-SPAN.)

It appears Romney meant to say corporations are made up of people, but that context is not likely to be included in future negative political ads, which will almost certainly include the sound bite. Indeed, not long after Romney's remark, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz issued a statement calling attention to what she described as Romney's "misplaced priorities."

"It is a shocking admission from a candidate—and a party—that shamelessly puts forward policies to help large corporations and the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class, seniors, and students," she said.

But if Romney was worried about the remark, he didn't show it. Even as protesters continued trying to shout him down during the event, Romney, for the most part, kept his cool, showing only an occasional hint of anger or annoyance.

"You have a right to our opinion," he said repeatedly, as he was heckled. "I don't think these people are planning to vote for me," he told the rest of the crowd.

Afterward, it was all business, as he roamed through the state fairgrounds, shaking hands with voters. ("I'm Mitt Romney," he said, repeatedly. "I'm running for president.") Behind him trailed two staffers carrying giant American flags, which they angled to get into Romney's camera shots.

The ex-governor blew off reporters who tried to question him, and, in a well-choreographed move, "ran into" Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who accompanied him on his tour of the fair. They flipped pork chops together--with Romney comportig himself at the grill a bit more tentatively than Grassley did, perhaps recalling his 2007 state fair visit when he accidentally flipped a chop off the grill and onto the ground.

In between, Romney tried to engage Grassley on a discussion about ethanol, though the former Massachusetts governor kept breaking away to shake hands with voters.

"It's just a lovely day to be here," Romney declared later, as he bit into a giant pork chop on the stick for a scrum of TV cameras. "This is good!"