Iraq vet confronts Mitt

At the Iowa State Fair Friday, an Iraq war veteran asks for some answers on the war, and Mitt Romney has somewhere else to be.

Published August 10, 2007 10:32PM (EDT)

DES MOINES -- The Iowa State Fair is not a political event. It is a place for prized cattle, fried Twinkies, enormous gourds, the Harry Potter butter sculpture (with butter Quidditch stick), and carnival barkers hawking the "Amazing Wonder Knife" for only $20, if you act now.

But with the Republican straw poll just hours from opening, politics has set up shop at the fair. Not that most people really notice. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were due to come through Friday. California Republican Duncan Hunter spent at least 30 minutes walking by the corndog stalls, a steak sandwich in hand, with hardly anyone stopping to shake his hand. (It was easy to tell who he was because he wore a cowboy hat with his bumper sticker on it.)

The exception was Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who is widely expected to win the straw poll. Wherever he went, he created some commotion, if only because he was being trailed by at least a dozen journalists, a half-dozen cameras and at least three of his sons. At one point this afternoon, he grabbed a microphone, stopping a crowd of about 100 for a shortened version of his stump speech.

Afterward, it got interesting. While Romney was shaking hands, an Iraq war veteran started calling out Romney's name. Ron Devoll Jr. is a 26-year-old from Cedar Falls, Iowa, who was wounded in Iraq by a mortar round. He was wearing a Red Sox baseball cap. Here's the transcript of what happened next:

DEVOLL: I'm an Iraq veteran. (Romney reached out to shake his hand.)

ROMNEY: Thank you for your service, and go Red Sox.

DEVOLL: If you were elected when would you pull the troops out?

ROMNEY: When the job is done, and hopefully that gets done soon, and the surge is successful. I sure hope it is going to be successful.

DEVOLL: Don't you think this is compared to the Vietnam War?

ROMNEY: It is by a lot of people. But I think it is different in a lot of respects, and the key respect is this: And that is that if this becomes, if we leave in the wrong way there, this could become a conflict that could engulf the entire region and potentially draw us back again into a worse situation. And so I believe the surge, I hope the surge will be successful. We're going to give it a shot. We are going to hear what Petraeus has to say in a month, and hopefully it will be successful. We can start bringing our troops home. That's what I would like to see.

DEVOLL: But why aren't we...

Devoll never got to finish asking his third question. Romney's traveling press secretary, Eric Fehrnstrom, announced to everyone that Romney had to go somewhere else to be. "Thank you very much," Fehrnstrom said.

But Devoll, who said he once voted Republican, was just getting started. "I think that Romney was disrespectful," Devoll told reporters after the candidate had left. "I tried to ask him questions. You know I am an Iraq vet who served my country and he can't give me a few minutes of his time, and he wants to walk off. I think that's really disrespectful," he said.

"I was wounded over there," he added. "I lost a lot of friends over there."

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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