DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched an ardent defense of President Barack Obama in Iowa on Saturday, telling local Democrats that in order to create security for the middle class, "we just can't cut our way to prosperity."
Obama's former chief of staff rallied about 1,300 people during the Iowa Democratic Party's largest annual fundraiser in Des Moines. Emanuel told the crowd that Republicans want to solve the nation's debt problem only through spending cuts, while Obama favors a balanced approach of cuts and tax increases.
"To create true middle-class security, we can't just cut our way to prosperity," Emanuel said. "We must out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the world."
Emanuel said Obama has made crucial, tough decisions based on his principles to help the country - and not in an attempt to lay the groundwork for a second term in the White House. And he asked the crowd whose judgment they wanted leading the country during such a critical economic time.
"In the next four years, there will be more challenges and more crises that will determine the economic vitality of the middle class and the economic future of this country," Emanuel said. "Whose character, whose judgment do you want in that office?"
Obama has a solid history in Iowa. His surprising win in the state's precinct caucuses four years ago launched him on the road to the White House, and he easily carried the state in the 2008 general election.
Emanuel's appearance in the key early-caucus state was a chance for Democrats to grab attention from several Republican presidential candidates making their case to social conservatives across town. Emanuel used the opportunity to criticize GOP candidate Mitt Romney, even though Romney wasn't in Iowa.
The mayor cited the sharply different views that Obama and Romney had on rescuing the auto industry and propping up the nation's financial system. He argued that Obama's views have been proven right, while Romney's stance to not offer federal financial assistance would have destroyed the two key industries.
Emanuel also said Romney has flip-flopped in his political views, such as taking a more conservative stance on abortion and gun control.
"Mitt Romney says he's a man of steadiness and consistency. If that's true, then I'm a linebacker for the Chicago Bears," said the slim, 5-foot-8 1/2 mayor.
In an interview before the event, Emanuel said he was looking forward to the prospect of a lengthy, heated Republican primary race - and the exposure it gives to the GOP candidates.
"I think a lot of people want to see it over quickly, and I don't think they're going to get that," he said.
Sounding the populist theme that Obama has been offering in recent weeks, Emanuel also said the president is focused less on the difficulty of his tasks as president and more on the struggles of the American middle class.
"He continues to help them try to get their feet back on the ground. That's the struggle he's worried about, not his struggle," Emanuel said.