'Yankee governor with Southern values' backs military and attacks 'HillaryCare'
By Jason Spencer
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made a stop at Spartanburg's Beacon Drive-In shortly after noon Thursday, summarizing his presidential platform, taking friendly (and a few not-so-friendly) questions from the audience, and attacking three Democratic presidential hopefuls.
About 250 people - including the media and campaign staff - crammed into the Beacon's Panther Room for Romney's sixth visit to Spartanburg since early 2005. June Bond, a local GOP activist and a county organizer for the Romney camp, welcomed the candidate and his wife, Ann, as a "family of faith."
Bond said she pledged her support to Romney about two years ago: "After all, I could still be waiting on Fred Thompson," a poke at the still-undeclared but hugely popular former congressman and actor. She also noted the couple's 38 years of marriage, and pointed out that Ann is not a "trophy wife" - another jab at Thompson.
Ann Romney introduced the presidential contender by using what's becoming a catch phrase on the current leg of her husband's tour: "He's a Yankee governor with Southern values," she said with a trademark smile that got plenty of laughs.
The equally charismatic Mitt Romney summed up most of his platform in the first 10 minutes, noting that he opposes socialized medicine (which he called "HillaryCare"), raising taxes on corporations or individuals, and amnesty for illegal immigrants. He attacked John Edwards, who has called the war on terror a "Bush bumper sticker," saying other countries would disagree with that assessment.
"There is a war being waged by the terrorists. And as long as we have a Republican president, we're going to have a war on terrorists," he said.
Romney later added that all options on dealing with Iran should be left on the table, including imposing tougher economic sanctions and exploring military options - whether those options are limited to forming a blockade to keep oil and gas from entering or leaving the country, or something far more severe. He also reiterated his support for the Patriot Act, wiretapping and the interrogation of suspected terrorists without a lawyer present.
And he said he would build up America's military by at least 100,000 troops, and increase military spending by up to $40 billion a year.
"After the tragedy of 9/11, we woke up to new threats," Romney said. "America is going to change. The question is, in what direction are we going to change? Republicans, like myself, look to the Founding Fathers ... they said, it's the people who were sovereign, and the government was the servant."
Party faithful applaud
The rhetoric sat well with the party faithful, who clapped and cheered at regular intervals. Romney signs, stickers and DVDs were available at the entrance to the Panther Room.
Romney talked a bit about the need to remove pornography from the Internet and then criticized Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, whom Romney said wants sex education taught in kindergarten.
The Obama camp has disputed this claim, saying that Obama wants youngsters to know enough to protect themselves from inappropriate touching by sexual predators.
When confronted with this, Romney said, "There are plenty of places to talk about inappropriate touching. That's not science-based sex education. He's pivoting because he realizes the outrageousness of what he said."
One of the most heartfelt questions came from Susan Cudd, wearing an "Are you covered?" T-shirt that represents the South Carolina chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Cudd said she can't work and isn't insured because she spends 24 hours a day as a caregiver to two family members who have been diagnosed with the disease. She wanted to know why funding for Alzheimer's research was minuscule, compared with dollars going toward cancer and AIDS studies.
"That's determined by political pressure, special-interest groups and lobbying," Romney said. "As we look at disease, we need scientists and doctors to look at mortality tables and say, 'Let's spend our money where it will do the most good.' "
Cudd, 48, of Spartanburg, said later that she wanted to ask her question of all the 2008 presidential contenders.
"I have a very good chance of inheriting Alzheimer's and breast cancer," she said. "This could be my last election. And I'm not going to waste it."
Romney touched on his health care plan, which would loosen regulations on insurance companies and call on the government to pay for poor people to have private insurance. That way is cheaper than the current situation, in which the government pays the health costs accumulated by uninsured people, he said.
Mallory Beckett of Spartanburg pointed out that this city receives millions of federal dollars for brownfields cleanup and Community Development Block Grants. She wanted to know what would befall those programs if Romney was successful in reducing the size of government.
Romney didn't address this specifically, but said that programs would have to be evaluated on their merit, and that if federal agencies were unable to shrink their budgets, then "Give me the line-item veto, and I'll do it for them."