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Romney promises to build military, slash spending, drill more for oil

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 13, 2012 - In a bid to whip up support for this week’s Missouri caucuses, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney promised hundreds of local Republican supporters today that if he becomes president, he will dramatically build up the nation’s military while slashing the federal government’s overall spending.

"We must have military superiority to protect peace," Romney said during his 15-minute address to hundreds of local supporters in Kirkwood Park. His appearance marked his first public campaign stop in the state, although Romney has made private visits over the past year to raise money.

The Republican presidential frontrunner did not get into detail on how he would finance a defense buildup, but his proposals were reminiscent of the fiscal approach in the 1980s by President Ronald Reagan, the most popular Republican for many party activists.

Romney also pledged to tackle rising gasoline prices by expanding drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, on "the outer continental shelf," in lands now protected in Alaska and in supporting the proposed Keystone pipeline from Canada across the United States.

He contended that President Barack Obama was avoiding taking blame for rising oil and gas prices, which Romney said was hurting the nation’s economic growth and the small businesses that fuel it.

Romney said his overall aim was to return the United States to greatness, which he and other speakers said was under threat by Obama, a Democrat seeking a second term.

"This is a battle for the soul of America," Romney said, touching off cheers. "This president wants to turn us into something we wouldn’t recognize: a European-style nation with an economy like theirs — with high unemployment, and low wage growth, and a military that gets shrunk to almost nothing."

Romney, allies blast Obama's policies

Romney also contended that Obama's view of "green energy" was "to give your green to people who helped his campaign."

He cited federal help for various alternative-energy efforts, some of which have not panned out, as well as the federal aid for the auto industry. Overall, said Romney, "That kind of investment philosophy is not natural in this country."

Declared former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney advisor who introduced the candidate: "The first step we have to take is not a change in laws. It’s not a change in policies. The first step on the road to renewal is a change in presidents."

State Auditor Tom Schweich told the crowd that Romney’s GOP rivals were too tied to Washington and Congress: "If they could have changed Washington, they would have done it already!"

The receptive audience, generally middle-aged and older, featured a number of Republican stalwarts as well as business people and retirees.

Boots Heitz, a Kirkwood retiree, said she liked everything Romney had to say. "He’s for smaller government; let the people decide for themselves," she said.

Lance Adzick, a self-employed contractor in Kirkwood, said he liked Romney — but planned to vote for whoever is the Republican nominee for president. "I don’t like anything Obama has done," he said.

Dick and Phyllis Wright of Chesterfield praised Romney’s approach as a politician and a person. "I like his character," said Phyllis Wright. Added her husband: "He’s the only one of the four (Republican presidential candidates) who appears presidential."

Romney seeks better showing in caucuses than primary

Schweich also offered up a basic primer to the audience of the coming caucuses, which will begin Saturday in most of the region. (St. Louis’ GOP caucus will be held March 24.)

Romney’s camp, which includes most of Missouri’s top Republican officeholders, hopes to show a substantial presence at the first-round caucuses to capture most of the state’s delegates, which largely will be doled out during the second round in April.

The overall aim is to counter rival Rick Santorum’s huge statewide win Feb. 7 during the state’s nonbinding Republican primary and to stem the efforts by GOP candidate Ron Paul, a Texas congressman who has specialized in amassing young supporters to pack caucuses.

Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, made several stops in Missouri last weekend, as did Paul. Paul plans to hold a rally Thursday in Columbia, Mo., targeting students at the University of Missouri.

Republican activists say that former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is expected to be in St. Louis later this week. The visit has yet to be confirmed by his campaign.

After Kirkwood, Romney was headed this afternoon to William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo.

Before launching into his campaign speech, Romney had asked the crowd whether he was in "Missour-ee" or "Missour-ah."

After the crowd shouted "Missour-ee," the presidential hopeful quipped that "I think we go into ‘Missour-ah’ later today."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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