The man with a 59-point economic plan seemed to try hard to keep wonkish policy talk out of the way of his broader visions for America.
In a 90-minute conversation with the Quad-City Times Editorial Board, Mitt Romney spoke about developing governing relationships as much as policy. He invoked the founders, cited his most inspirational presidents and even expressed a measure of admiration for Bill Clinton's legislative tactics.
But Romney just couldn't keep his wonkish side quiet. He closed the the meeting with this stirring testament to American values, comparing gross domestic productivity:
"Our income, our GDP per capita, is almost 50 percent higher than the average European. What made that happen? Not our DNA, because our DNA is same as their's ... I think its the values and the principles of free enterprise; of the fluidity of our workforce, our institutions of higher learning; our federalism, our Constitution. All of those things together have created this extraordinary dynamic unequaled in the world. I don't want to see a president messing with that... because it will kill the spirit that makes us the powerhouse we are."
Romney the wonk continued: "By the way, if you look at the numbers, it's GDP per capita purchasing power adjusted."
Romney's agenda seems driven by the private sector credentials that distinguish him from the rest of the field. Romney never once raised issues of his faith, marriage or abortion. His positions are clear in campaign materials: He's a life-long Mormon; he believes marriage is one man, one woman; and he's been pro-life since his well-publicized 2005 conversion on that issue.
But in this caucus campaign, in a state where social issues have driven much of the debate, Romney is choosing to focus solidly on deficits, jobs and spending. That's what he says Iowans are telling him.
"The focus of questions here has been on the scale of government ... too big, too intrusive, borrowing too much, spending too much. That tends to be what I here from voters in Iowa."
Outside Iowa, and in the endless series of debates, Romney said questions are about, "more of what happened yesterday, what did candidate X say yesterday. It's the daily process story. The daily process is maybe good for the ratings on TV, but it's more fundamental what I hear from voters."
Consequently, polls show dramatic shifts in Iowa voter preferences. Romney's watched a succession of new front runners from his reliable 2nd- and 3rd-place poll positions.
"Polls change so quickly and so dramatically, I don't think we can drive a campaign based on poll numbers."
Instead, he's sticking with a jobs and economy message he says is more practical and effective than simpler flat-tax options touted by GOP competitors. Romney favors reducing, not eliminating taxes on investment income. He favors tax cuts focused squarely on middle-income earners. He favors extensive trade negotiations to find foreign markets for American goods.
"I know there's some people who say there's only one thing you've got to do. But I've been in business long enough to know you've got to do a lot of things to change the trajectory of an enterprise."
Changing the direction of the U.S. economy will require the kinds of partisan partnerships Romney touted as a Massachusetts governor.
"In the business world... you also learn how to work with other people, ... customers, suppliers, bankers, investors, your board... . You have frequent communication with them so you don't find yourself going off the rails."
In Massachusetts, Romney said, "I would have gotten nothing done had I not established relationships of trust with my Democratic friends."
He established Monday meetings with legislative leaders of both parties, "not just in my office, because I was the boss, but in their offices. We rotated ... literally every week. So when crises arose, we had confidence in one another and trust."
If elected president, Romney said his first calls would be to Congressional leaders of both parties.
"I think it's important to establish a relationship from the very beginning with members of other branch of government," he said. "I doubt I'd do the same thing with members of Supreme Court. They're out of the law making process, if they're doing their job properly."
Congress' job must be to curtail waste and excessive regulation to find the money to stimulate growth. He noted that Congressional Republicans share complicity for the Bush and Obama stimulus packages he said created crushing debt without sufficiently reviving the economy.
In hindsight, Romney said he would have preferred simpler reforms to allow immediate federal tax deductions for business capital expenditures, along with defense infrastructure investment.
"In both cases, we would have encouraged the economy .We would have been buying things we would be buying anyway. We'd have just brought them forward and encouraged economy at a time it was in distress."
He condemns the Obama "idea of simply sending out checks to people or guaranteeing the government will keep its fire, police and teachers intact. That is not an effective way to get the economy going."
Going forward, Romney said taxpayer capital investment in American infrastructure should quickly create new tax revenue streams.
"I don't like debt unless there's a stream of revenue that pays back the debt." For example, Romney suggested "a bonding program that relates to our ports in this country, then charge as products come into these ports to repay the bonds.
"We could do the same thing with highway projects... for instance, a toll road stream of revenue to pay back the bonds. We're going to have to do something of that nature to rebuild the infrastructure in our country."
That measured approach applies to spending cuts as well. Romney has stopped short of the $1 trillion in cuts touted by Rep. Ron Paul. "If you knock a trillion dollars out of (the overall U.S.) 15 trillion-dollar economy, you have now shrunk the economy dramatically, even more than it shrunk in the '08 recession. America would be in a deep recession again."
But Romney insists he's not the moderate, or middle-ground candidate. "I will take exception to the idea that I'm just working around the edges."
For example: "I think everybody on the playing field has proposed eliminating taxes on interest and capital gains for everyone. That's a bold idea, but I don't think it's the right idea." Romney pitches capital gains tax relief for middle-, and upper middle- income earners. The "Warren Buffets and Bill Gaines" don't need the relief, he says.
Romney supports dropping corporate income rates from 35 percent down to 25 percent. That's far less than Gingrich's 12.5 percent and Cain's 9 percent corporate rates.
"I'm not going to add hundreds of billions of dollars to deficit. If we're going to spend some precious tax reduction dollars, lets spend them to help the middle class that's hurting right now."
Where does the Rock Island Arsenal fit into your defense plans?
Romney toured the Arsenal during the 2008 caucus campaign. "I watched the eagles from over there."
"I can't begin to tell you the answer to that because I don't know what all of our base and defense assets are around the country and around the world. I can tell you I believe there is a lot of waste .... and inefficiency that would not exist in a private sector enterprise. ... The facility across river might be an absolute gem and essential to our national defense, or it may be an anachronism.
"... But I can tell you I will aggressively pursue waste wherever I find it; weapons systems that are out of date; bureaucratic overhead structures that are out of line with our needs. I will eliminate those things and take the dollars we save to invest in additional ships, aircraft, personnel and our veterans.