Helena Independent Record - Presidential Hopeful Touts Optimism, Reagan Values
By Charles S. Johnson
Exuding optimism and barely mentioning President Bush, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney vowed Friday that he would continue to wage the war on terrorism if he's elected president next year.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, addressed the Montana Republican Party at a breakfast meeting where he drew rousing applause from the sellout crowd of more than 340 people.
His stump speech was short on specifics and long on optimism and values, although he addressed a number of issues at a later press conference. (See story at right.)
"It's a time to be optimistic and not a time to look down on our shoes,'' Romney said.
Citing new U.S. trade opportunities in China and India, Romney said there are now one billion new consumers for U.S. medical and pharmaceutical products and computer hardware and software.
"Our Democratic friends, our liberal friends, are tempted to say our source of strength is our government,'' Romney said. "The source of America's strength is its people.''
America's strength, he said, lies in its hard-working people who value education, are willing to save for the future, "who largely believe in God or something greater than ourselves'' and are willing to take a risk.
Romney quoted President Ronald Reagan by saying, "Conservatism is a philosophy of strength strong military, strong economy and strong families and values.''
The candidate referred to his 25 years in the private sector, including running a venture capital firm, and his experience running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He quoted his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, who once headed American Motors, telling him, "Mitt, don't ever forget, there's nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success.''
"It's important for us not to become complacent,'' Romney said. "Washington is broken. Washington's inability to deal with the challenges we face is breathtaking.''
Romney took a swipe at Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards who said there is no war on terror.
"There is a war being waged,'' Romney said. "If I am president or any Republican is president, I'll tell you what: There will be a war waged on terrorists.''
He called for keeping federal taxes down and, in his lone reference to President Bush, said he favors extending the Bush tax cuts. Romney called for eliminating the federal estate tax, or death tax as he called it, and eliminating federal taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains.
Romney also put in a strong pitch for family values, calling for efforts to reduce the number of children born out of wedlock.
"I think it's critical we encourage again marriage before babies,'' Romney said.
Many of those attending the convention were pleased with his speech.
"Wow, that was a knockout,'' said Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell. "Unbelievable.''
Thelma Baker, a longtime Republican activist from Missoula, praised the speech but said she hasn't settled on a candidate to support yet. Baker said she may go to the national Pachyderm convention in Wichita, Kan., to hear the GOP candidates debate.
Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, said he liked the "overall optimism'' and Romney's focus "on the American people.''
"It was good,'' said Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo. "I was impressed. He's the best I've seen so far.''
Rep. Elsie Arntzen, R-Billings, a teacher and potential candidate for superintendent of public instruction, said she asked Romney afterward about where he stood on education issues. Romney told her he wants to continue the testing under the No Child Left Behind law.
"He was impressive,'' she said. "It was an emotional speech.''
Romney: States must take lead on solving health care
If you sat in on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's speech here Friday, you heard the campaign platitudes he's been pitching everywhere "strong military, strong economy, strong family.''
It wasn't until later, in a brief Q-and-A with reporters, that you heard some meat on the bones, some detailed talk about issues.
The fight against terrorism?
Romney, who talks tough against "radical Islam,'' said the United States should not close its military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has been the target of international criticism for possible human-rights violations.
"I think Guantanamo is a symbol of our resolve,'' he said. "We should be expanding Guantanamo rather than (talking about closing it).''
Health care reform?
The solution will come from the states, said Romney, pointing to the plan developed in Massachusetts while he was governor from 2003-2006.
Congress needs to allow states the flexibility to develop their own plans to provide health coverage for their citizens, while still maintaining federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare, he said.
The nation should look at what works best in the various states, and then perhaps pursue that model, Romney said.
''The last thing we need to say at this point is to have the (federal) government say This is the way to do it,' as a single-payer system or (another system),'' he said.
The war in Iraq?
Support the request from Gen. David Petraeus to add an additional 25,000 troops to help "stabilize'' the country and set a series of "benchmarks'' for the Iraqi government to meet before troops can be sent home.
Romney also wants to add 100,000 troops overall to the U.S. military, by increasing the compensation and benefits for soldiers.
These details emerged in 10 minutes of back-and-forth before Romney had to leave, whisked off to his next campaign stop in Portland, Ore., and then on to Idaho and Utah on Friday.
As he left the media room, Romney let fly with another nugget he didn't share with the Republican faithful in Montana: He thinks Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer is a pretty good guy, and if any of us in the press see him, say hello for Mitt.
Schweitzer and Romney were among a group of governors who traveled to Iraq last year.
''He kept me chuckling,'' Romney said of Schweitzer.