WILTON, Iowa -- Mitt Romney spent yesterday morning barnstorming the small farming communities of Eastern Iowa, holding a series of "Ask Mitt Anything" events and urging his supporters to turn out for the straw poll in Ames on Saturday.
All the time he has spent in Iowa, however, appears to have affected the former Massachusetts governor's recollection of the state he presided over for four years.
At the Wilton Candy Kitchen, which claims to be the "oldest ice cream parlor/soda fountain in the world," Romney told a crowd of mostly elderly residents that his son Josh was about to complete a tour of all 99 counties in Iowa.
A woman raised her hand. "Yes, please!" Romney said.
"How many counties are in Massachusetts?" she asked.
"Thirteen," he said. A few feet away, an aide shook his head and said, "Ten."
"Oh, no, I think it's 13," Romney said. "Not like your 99."
He paused for a moment. "Yeah, if you count Dukes County . . ." he trailed off. "So, anyway, we have very, very few."
"Ninety-nine counties," Romney said, apparently hoping to change the subject, "Why didn't you get to 100?"
The crowd laughed good-naturedly. A spokesman for Romney said he shortly thereafter "corrected the record" to the right answer of 14.
She cited the fatal Big Dig tunnel ceiling collapse and Hurricane Katrina, as well as the tragedy in Minneapolis, as a warning sign that the country faces a crisis that threatens both safety and economic vitality.
As president, Clinton said, she would establish a $10 billion emergency repair fund for bridges, roads, waterways, and seaports, and spend $250 million for states to conduct emergency safety reviews. She would invest $1 billion in urban rail systems, and boost federal funding for public transit by $1.5 billion a year.
Thompson has tapped Bill Lacy, a former strategist for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and the Republican National Committee, to run day-to-day operations of his committee to "test the waters" for a presidential run.
"He turned around my campaign for Senate in 1994 and, as I move toward a decision on whether to run for president, I am confident he will take our operations to the next level," Thompson, the former Tennessee senator who is expected to officially enter the race Labor Day week, said in a statement.
Romney, who did not serve in Vietnam because of his Mormon missionary work and a high draft lottery number, was asked the question by an antiwar activist after a speech in which he called for "a surge of support" for US forces in Iraq.
"The good news is that we have a volunteer Army and that's the way we're going to keep it," Romney said. "My sons are all adults . . . and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard."
Romney's five sons range in age from 26 to 37 and are campaigning for their father. Romney said his middle son, 36-year-old Josh, was completing a recreational vehicle tour of all 99 Iowa counties.
The woman who asked the question, Rachel Griffiths, 41, of Milan, Ill., was not sold.
"He told me the way his son shows support for our military and our nation is to buy a Winnebago and ride across Iowa and help him get elected," she said.
The Democratic hopefuls now will increase their lobbying efforts on the AFL-CIO's unions -- representing about 10 million workers. ASSOCIATED PRESS