By John Whitesides
PELLA, Iowa (Reuters) - Mitt Romney, on a rare visit to Iowa on Wednesday, said Americans were "fearful, but not panicked" about the economy and predicted voters would deny President Barack Obama a second term for his economic failures.
The Republican presidential front-runner said Obama would lose in Iowa and elsewhere in the general election in November next year because his policies had impeded economic growth and dented confidence.
"He is not up to the task of leading the country at a time of economic crisis," Romney told reporters after a round-table
with 14 local business leaders in Pella, in southeastern Iowa, where he touted his business experience.
"The president's policies have made it more difficult for enterprises to grow and thrive at a time when this economy is in trouble," Romney said, adding Obama had created a sense of uncertainty amid fraught debt-ceiling negotiations in Washington and wild swings in the stock market.
"They're fearful but not panicked," Romney said of Americans. "They're discouraged, but not so frightened that they can't move forward."
During an evening visit to a local party fund-raiser in Des Moines, Romney said the United States was in crisis. "You've got a lot of people in this country that are hurting, that are suffering, because of his policies," he said.
Romney, making just his second visit to Iowa this year, promised to compete in the state's 2012 nominating contest even though he is not participating in Saturday's straw poll, a traditional but nonbinding test of candidate strength.
"You'll see me plenty in Iowa," said Romney, who has focused most of his time and resources on New Hampshire, Florida and other states that hold their contests after Iowa.
He will attend a fund-raiser, visit the state fair on Thursday and participate that night in a televised Republican presidential debate but leave before Saturday's straw poll.
Iowa's kickoff contest is dominated by the state party's big bloc of social and religious conservatives, a group that is suspicious of the former governor of liberal Massachusetts and his views on issues like abortion and healthcare.
WANTS TO COMPETE IN REAL CONTESTS
Romney, who won the Iowa straw poll in 2007 but fell short in the caucuses after spending millions of dollars, said he will not compete in straw polls "because I want to use our financial resources to participate in actual election contests that generate delegates."
He has fallen behind conservative rival Michele Bachmann in Iowa polls and has been a shaky national front-runner in the Republican race. His standing could face a new challenge this weekend when Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to signal his intention to run.
Perry, a staunch social and religious conservative, has stressed his record of job growth in Texas and could compete with Romney for support from the party's business wing. Romney refused to be drawn into a discussion of Perry.
"He's a fine man and a fine governor. The record of Texas speaks for itself," he said.
As he has throughout the campaign, Romney said his background running a company made him the best Republican for lifting the U.S. economy out of trouble. Romney headed a private equity firm and led the Salt Lake City Olympics.
He said he was not worried that Iowans would punish him next year for not participating in the straw poll or devoting enough attention to them.
"The people of Iowa are far less concerned with the process of politics and far more concerned about the future of America," he said.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)