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Daily Times Herald - Romney: 'I Will Make America Strong'

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Daily Times Herald - Romney: 'I Will Make America Strong'

By: Butch Heman

Mitt Romney says his three-legged-stool approach to strengthen families and the American economy and military distinguishes him in a jumbled field of presidential candidates.

Romney, the Republican former governor of Massachusetts, made his first campaign stop in Carroll Monday with an "Ask Mitt Anything" program.

With wife Ann and one of his five grown sons in tow, Romney told an audience of about 100 at the Carrollton Centre ballroom that his many years working in the private sector and his experience as a one-term governor will help make America stronger.

The Michigan native graduated from Brigham Young University, Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, then worked for a management consulting firm before opening his own venture capital and investment company. After 10 years in business he unsuccessfully ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 1994.

After running the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games in 2002, Willard Romney - he's gone by his middle name since kindergarten - was elected governor, and he says that during his one term he erased a $3 billion deficit and created 60,000 jobs.

"Things don't change in government," the 60-year-old, wearing black slacks, long-sleeved white shirt and tie, remarked from a platform before the crowd seated in a semicircle. "They haven't had to because we're so far ahead of the rest of the world. But now we face greater challenges as a nation than we've faced before. I believe we can change and can make America a place just as promising with just as much prospect for success and vitality as anything we've enjoyed."

Romney said that as president he'd strengthen families by providing health insurance to all citizens, aiding schools and promoting "moms and dads at home."

"In my view there's no work in America more important for our future than the work that goes on within the four walls of the American home," he related.

On the economy, Romney said he'd work to keep taxes down so citizens can invest.

And regarding the military, Romney said he supports President Bush's troop surge for the war on terror and said he'd ensure sufficient money was spent to supply soldiers with enough weapons and equipment on the battlefield and health care once they get home.

"One, we're spending too much money in Washington," he remarked. "Two, we're using too much foreign oil. We could be energy-independent. We're not. We spend a billion dollars on oil from other countries a day."

Romney continued by saying students are falling behind because U.S. schools trail international standards, it's senseless that 45 million Americans lack health insurance, immigration laws are outdated and not enforced, that America faces growing competition from emerging economies in Asia and that the threat from violent Muslims remains.

"So we face some real challenges," he said. "And when you face challenges you turn to the source of your strength. Liberals think we're strong because we have such good government. But that's not the source of our strength. The source of our strength is the American people. ... And what has made us the strongest nation on earth is the culture and the values and the beliefs of the American people.

"Keeping America strong is in my view the key to this nation having a great and prosperous future. And we keep America strong by having strong families that help us have a strong economy which provides a strong military. It all works together."

Romney's made more than 25 stops in Iowa, site of the first-in-the-nation caucuses. And son Josh, who accompanied him to Carroll on Tuesday, has stumped in 39 counties and intends to hit the remaining 60.

Leader by a slim margin in recent Iowa polling, Romney's also established strong organizations in several early primary and caucus states, including South Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida and his native Michigan.

"As you meet the American people you come away more confident in our future, because the heart of the American people is good," Romney commented. "Combined with those people we have great technology and we have an extraordinary national wealth. And all we need to make sure we have is leadership that'll tell us the truth, show us the vision of what we have to do, lay out the track to get there and actually lead. That's what I know how to do. That's what I've spent my life doing. ... And if I'm lucky enough to be your nominee, I'll beat Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or whoever they serve up, and go on and make sure we have good conservative leadership in Washington."

Loretta Hansen of Carroll, who schmoozed the candidate by saying he appears more handsome in person than on TV, asked what he'd do to improve the lives of Iowans.

"The same way I think I can help the country," Romney replied, reiterating his call for strong families, economy and military.

He said Iowa's a vital part of the country's economic growth.

"That has a lot to do with Iowa, because you grow a lot of things here," he said.

Romney said he'd also work to make Iowa, and the rest of the country, safe, adding, "Ultimately you have to find the bad guys. Intelligence work is what's critical. ... I will keep our nation safe by being vigilant in our intelligence work to find the bad guys."

He quoted Ronald Reagan and on several occasions praised George W. Bush, particularly crediting the current GOP president with keeping America safe in the nearly six years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

When Don Granstra of Carroll asked Romney's plan for the war in Iraq, the candidate said America is really leading a global war against "violent jihad, extremist Muslims."

Romney said the United States should also pool its nonmilitary resources "to help move people around the world toward solidarity."

"We're great at marketing Coca-Cola and Levis. Let's market our values as well," he explained. "Get closer to our allies and put together a new entity which has as its purpose supporting moderate Islamic people so they can reject the extreme ... so we don't have to be doing it for them around the world."

He repeated his support for a troop surge but added, "I can't tell you whether it's going to work or not. ... I'd like to see the administration lay out the metrics they're going to use to evaluate whether it's been effective or not. If it is, we'll be able to start bringing our troops home. I want to get them home as soon as we possibly can. They've been there a long time."

John Van Horn of Glidden asked the candidate if anyone in his family had served in the armed forces. Romney said his father-in-law had been in the Navy.

Romney said he was in the draft lottery in 1970, the Vietnam War era, but that his number wasn't called.

"I'd be proud to serve in the military, and honor those who do serve in the military and protect this country," he related.

Romney pointed out that the number of Americans in uniform dropped from 2 million to 1.5 million during the Clinton administration and that the average age of an American military aircraft is 28.

"We've let our military get too small, and we've underinvested in new weapons systems and protective equipment," he added. "I think we need to rebuild our total number of troops, and I think we need to rebuild the equipment they use."

Romney's drawn criticism from voters and political rivals alike for changing his position on abortion. He switched from pro-choice to pro-life while governor of Massachusetts.

When queried by an audience member Tuesday, Romney explained that he changed when a bill came to his desk that would've legalized research on cloned human embryos.

"I spent a lot of time talking to religious leaders, doctors and researchers," he said in explaining his veto. "Well, if it's life and it's human, it's human life. I said I simply cannot sign a bill which creates human life for the sole purpose of experimenting and destroying it.

"I am pro-life. I realize a lot of people disagree, and this is a very tender subject. I know there are many people concerned about the life of the pregnant woman, as I am, but I'm also concerned about the life of the unborn child."

He said the Supreme Court should give states the authority to decide whether abortion and embryonic testing should be legal "instead of having a one-size-fits-all Roe-v.-Wade pronouncement for the entire nation."

"I know there are some people that don't like the fact that I'm pro-life, but I'm not going to apologize for having become pro-life," he said.

In response to a question from Kate Klocke on health care, Romney said that during his governorship Massachusetts began helping low-income people pay health-insurance premiums and the number of uninsured has dropped by one-third.

"We found it was actually less expensive to help people buy insurance than it was to give free care at the hospital," he said. "At the national level, I'd like to see states be able to try their own programs."

During a brief interview with The Times Herald, Romney said his call to strengthen families, the economy and the military set him apart from other presidential hopefuls.

"If you will, it's three legs to one stool, and I believe the Republicans can win with that platform," he said.

"I have a very different background than other people running for office. I spent my life not in politics, not in Washington, but in the private sector, and I've learned in the rough and tumble of the private sector how jobs are created and how they're lost, I've learned how you make decisions with great people coming together, how you build a terrific team, what kind of analysis leads to good answers, and that's the kind of experience that you have to have to lead a great enterprise."

Ann Romney told the audience that she and her husband of 38 years "like the values of Iowa, and we think they're very similar to the ones we were raised on.

"I can't wait to see (Mitt) get his hands on Washington. He will really shake it up."

When asked about "Mitt," Romney said he's gone by his middle name since being teased in childhood.

"In kindergarten I was Billie because my legal first name is Willard," he said. "I came home one day and said 'I don't like that name' because they sang a song to me 'Where have you been, Billy boy, Billy boy?' I said, 'I want to use another name.' My mom said I could use my middle name, and I've been using it since kindergarten."


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