February 11, 2012

In Maine visit, Romney takes jabs at Obama

On the eve of Maine caucuses, the candidate promises a return to 'conservative principles'.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney brought supporters to their feet Friday evening at a campaign stop on Portland's waterfront, where he blasted President Obama's efforts to reform health care and turn around the economy.

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GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, addresses the crowd at a town-hall meeting at The Portland Co. Marine Complex on Fore Street on Friday night. Romney and one rival, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, will be in Maine today.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Tim Thompson of Cape Elizabeth poses a question to Mitt Romney during the GOP candidate’s visit to Portland on Friday. Romney is also expected to attend the Portland caucus today.

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On the eve of Republican caucuses across Maine, where U.S. Rep. Ron Paul poses a significant challenge, Romney pledged his commitment to following the principles of the Constitution as "rights granted by God."

"We need to take a different course in America," Romney said. "We need to return to conservative principles."

Dressed casually in faded jeans, a blue V-neck sweater and a white plaid button-down shirt, Romney touted his experience as a businessman, saying he would cut spending in Washington, D.C., and balance the federal budget.

"I know how to balance budgets because I've done it," Romney said to about 300 people at the town hall-style event, held in an old brick warehouse at The Portland Co. Marine Complex on Fore Street.

He's expected to attend the Portland caucus today.

Romney jabbed Obama for "launching an assault on religious conviction," referring to a rule in the health care reform act that will require health insurance plans for employees of religious nonprofits to provide contraception coverage.

"That will end," Romney said.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has taken a lead role in the national opposition to the rule.

When a woman asked what he would do to generate jobs in Maine, Romney said he would "get the economy going" so more companies would decide to come back to the United States.

Another woman asked what he would do to reduce the burden of student loans on recent college graduates.

Romney said colleges and universities are charging higher tuition because students are able to get larger student loans. He related it to problems in the education system from kindergarten to high school, which he blamed on teachers' unions, and said he would make sure that higher education is "teaching kids what they need and have jobs when they get out."

One man asked Romney how he would encourage more charitable giving to reduce dependence on government programs.

"We do a lot of things with government that I love," Romney said, but he wouldn't allow the United States to borrow money from China to pay for it.

He said he ended government funding of some charities when he was governor of Massachusetts and suggested that PBS have commercials so Big Bird could "get to know" Kellogg's Corn Flakes.

When one woman asked if Romney would "go after" Obama and change the image of the presidency, Romney said, "My guess is, the first 100 days (in office) will make all the difference."

Romney said he would grant waivers from "Obamacare" for all 50 states, apply tariffs on Chinese goods, grant leases to promote drilling for oil and gas on public lands, and support efforts to get fuel from the Keystone pipeline and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

He promised strong support for the military to "prevent war," pledging to increase Navy ship construction from nine to 15 vessels per year and provide veterans with the care they deserve.

Hecklers challenged statements Romney made about the need to reduce government regulation of business, the threat of federal control of individuals' health care plans and the safety of drilling for natural gas.

"If you don't want oil from Canada and if you don't want gas from America, vote for Barack Obama," Romney said, repeating a suggestion he made earlier in the evening when someone disputed his position on health care reform.

When one woman yelled that underground water supplies have been contaminated by some gas "fracking," Romney told her, "Don't get so upset about it. It's not worth it."

(Continued on page 2)

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