(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak )
Reporting from Sumter, S.C. —
Still leading in polls with the South Carolina primary just a week away, Mitt Romney set his sights on President Obama and pledged to rescue America from becoming a welfare state, speaking in front of hundreds of voters and veterans at an American Legion post about 45 miles east of South Carolina’s capital, Columbia.
“This election is about more even than shrinking the size of the federal government and getting rid of the debt,” said Romney, who recited verses from the song "America the Beautiful" in his speech. “It's really, in my view, an election about the soul of America.”
Romney has enlisted John McCain to help shore up his military credentials and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for local support. On Saturday, he added NASCAR driver Bobby Allison to his list of traveling supporters. Allison, named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers, stood on a stage with Romney, his wife, Ann, and Haley in front of a crowd of veterans and voters, and reminisced about driving a Dodge Rambler, a car Romney’s father, George Romney, focused on during his time as chief executive of American Motors Corp.
Some of the biggest applause during Romney’s speech related to his comments on military spending, a big issue in this state, which has seven military bases, 38,000 active duty military personnel and about 406,000 veterans, or 10% of the population.
Romney criticized Obama for proposing one trillion dollars of cuts to the Defense Dept., and continued, “American superiorty militarily is essential to the world and essential to us,” Romney said, to perhaps the loudest applause of the afternoon.
After days of controversy over commercials criticizing Romney’s company, Bain Capital, for slashing jobs in South Carolina, Romney did not mention Bain, but instead compared his experience creating jobs to Obama’s experience as a community organizer.
“He likes to say that he has had extensive experience working alongside hard working Americans.” Romney said. “I think it helps to have actually been a hard working American...To create jobs in the private sector, it helps to have had a job in the private sector.”
Jobs are a top issue for voters in South Carolina – the state’s current unemployment rate is 9.9%, and this summer the state had the third-highest unemployment rate in the country. South Carolina is a right-to-work state, which means unions cannot require employees to join or pay dues, and a strong anti-union bias has grown after the National Labor Relations Board tried to prohibit Boeing Co. from building a plant north of Charleston, accusing the company of moving jobs from Washington State to avoid hiring union employees.
Romney alluded to federal government interference in enterprise in his speech, saying that as a businessman, he knew how to create an environment that would make companies want to create jobs.
“I will make America again the best place for enterprise,” he said.
Romney also pledging to open up energy drilling, cut federal spending and get government out of voters’ lives.
Romney’s pro-military, anti-Obama message resonated with voter Helen Baum, 79, who lives in Sumter.
“We don’t need more government employees, we need more jobs in the private sector,” said Baum, whose husband served in the military. She said the country learned from experience that cutting back on Defense spending doesn’t work. But most of all, she just wants to get President Obama out of office – Democrats, she said, are ruining the country.
“Their purpose is to destroy America,” she said. “That’s what a lot of people think.”