WASHINGTON -- Speaking to an occasionally rowdy crowd two days before the Ames Straw poll, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made what seems likely to become a much-discussed flub, declaring to a group of Iowans that "corporations are people."
Pressed by an attendee at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday as to why he was focusing on entitlement reforms as a means of deficit reduction over asking corporations to share part of the burden, the GOP frontrunner shot back:
"Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings my friend."
The comment was immediately pounced on by Democrats, who saw it as another example of Romney being uncomfortable on the stump and inartful in his attempts to come off as an everyday pol.
"This is what Mitt Romney is going to run on? Corporations are people? Really?" said Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. "There's a great message for people struggling to get by and trying to make ends meet. Don't complain -- corporations are people too!"
Speaking at the Des Moines Register soapbox, Romney was also interrupted by a heckler who asked if if he supported "scrapping the Social Security payroll cap so that rich people pay their fair share into the trust fund?"
Romney responded, "There was a time in this country where we didn't celebrate attacking people based on their success. We didn't go after people because they were successful. I've watched this president go across the country attacking people, and I... and I am... if you want to speak, you can speak. But right now it's my turn, so let me continue."
The presidential contender went on to underscore his bottom line. "If you don't like my answer, you can vote for someone else," he said.
The situation that unfolded comes ahead of Thursday night's Republican presidential primary debate in the Hawkeye State. It also comes two days before the Ames Straw Poll, a test of conservative strength and table-setter for next year's Iowa caucuses that will take place on Saturday. While Romney will appear on the ballot, he is not actively campaigning to lock up support ahead of the event.
"As you know I participated in a major way in a straw poll four years ago," Romney said in addressing his decision to forego the straw poll during an appearance on Fox News' "Hannity" on Wednesday night. "Some of the benefit I already was able to accrue based upon what happened last time around... I want to use my financial resources and my time this time to actually get delegates, not the straw polls -- they are nice but don't get you delegates -- I'm not going to participate in the straw polls anywhere in the country."
More video of the heckling, from AP: