DES MOINES, Iowa - It's an overriding conservative principle: Scale back
government interference and let businesses survive or fail on their merits.
But standing by that principle may hurt Mitt Romney in Iowa, a hotly contested
swing state that could provide a crucial 6 electoral college votes in November.
Romney recently upset many conservatives here by saying he would end a
government tax credit that helps subsidize a burgeoning wind industry in the
state. Some of them _ farmers who earns tens of thousands of dollars a year
for having wind turbines on their property _ say they won't vote for Romney
because of his wind position. Others, including Rob Hach, a lifelong
Republican who owns a wind-energy business, even say they'll now vote for
President Barack Obama.
"It's critical for the economy," said Hach, whose company, Anemometry, moved
into a shuttered furniture store in rural Alta and then expanded to an
abandoned lumberyard. "Right now, the Midwest is experiencing an intense
drought, and the wind turbines are producing revenue for farmers, while the
crops are not."
It is not just rural voters in Iowa who are invested in wind. Throughout the
Midwest, wind turbines are popping up in areas once sustained by agriculture
or manufacturing. The industry has created 7,000 jobs in Iowa, opening
manufacturing plants in towns where Maytag factories once operated. Wind
creates 5,000 direct and indirect jobs in Ohio, the fastest-growing state for
new wind-power installations last year, and 1,000 jobs in Indiana, according
to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.
Conservatives such as Hach say they don't want handouts. But In the heartland,
where the population has declined as younger generations have moved to the
cities, the idea of an industry that could resuscitate struggling small towns
is an exciting one. Wind advocates say they just need a few more years of
government help to get the industry on its feet.
"Iowa is known for brain drain, when talented farm kids leave the state," Hach
said. "But wind turbines could help bring them back."
Many Republicans in Congress support tax credits for renewable energy,
including Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Iowa
Rep. Tom Latham, who introduced Romney at an event Wednesday in Des Moines
(though when a Latham aide was asked about the tax credits before the event,
she covered her ears with her hands, said "I can't hear you," and walked away).
More than 81 percent of all wind capacity installed in the United States is in
congressional districts represented by Republicans, according to the U.S. Wind
Industry Annual Market Report.
"Romney's position on wind energy and generally his opposition to government
subsidies and tax benefits will be a huge problem for him in Iowa come
November," said Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State
University. "Iowa's wind industry, from production to wind farms ... requires
a partnership with government. Without that the ethanol plants will go dark,
farmers will go bankrupt, and the wind industry will go silent."
At issue is a production tax credit, set to expire this year, that allows wind
farms to receive a credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity they
produce. It has not been allowed to expire since it was signed into law in
2005, but last week, a Romney spokesman told The Des Moines Register that
Romney "will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles and
create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on
The comment irked Iowa's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and many in the
state's Republican congressional delegation. Branstad called Romney's staffers
a "bunch of East Coast people that need to get out here in the real world to
find out what's really going on," in an interview with Radio Iowa last week.
He slightly tempered his criticisms this week.
"I can understand why he objects to Solyndra and all the boondoggles Obama has
supported with the stimulus, but remember, the wind energy tax credit (was
proposed) by Sen. Grassley and way preceded Obama," Branstad said in an
interview. "It's a tool that's helped us grow this energy.... We love it."
Still, for many voters, the economy and the national debt will trump any
concerns about tax credits for wind. Many came out Wednesday to support Romney
in Des Moines, where he repeated his charge that Obama was seeking to water
down federal work requirements for welfare recipients, and outlined a
five-point plan to help the middle class. (He did not mention wind energy.)
Chris Bobst, 53, who owns a drywall and plaster business near Des Moines, says
Romney's position on wind doesn't matter to him.
"I think they should eliminate all tax credits. I own a small business. When
it isn't working out, no one bails me out," said Bobst, who supported Rick
Santorum during the caucuses because of his conservative Christian values, and
is now supporting Romney because he is concerned with federal spending, debt
and deficit under Obama. "I just feel we can't have four more years of Obama."
But even if it isn't a top issue for all voters, wind may help sway votes in a
swing state _ a prime reason Obama will campaign in a three-day bus tour here
The wind tax credits are especially popular now that a drought has gripped
much of the state. For many farmers, turbines are providing a steady income
while crops are not.
(Semuels reported from Alta, Mehta from Des Moines.)