Romney Makes Economic Pitch In Detroit

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney delivered an economic address at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, on Friday in advance of the state's primary on Tuesday.

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Mitt Romney delivered what his campaign called a major economic speech today in Detroit. His team has been building up anticipation for weeks. They even moved it from a smaller venue to Ford Field, the football stadium where the Detroit Lions play.

NPR's Ari Shapiro was there.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: From the outset, this event was an exercise in managing expectations. It may be a major speech, but Romney warned people that they might not get amped up about it.

MITT ROMNEY: This is not exciting and barn burning, but it's important.

SHAPIRO: His stage was built on the football field at the 30-yard line. In front of him, 1,200 members of the Detroit Economic Club who'd bought tickets to the event. They sat in folding chairs on the Astroturf, wearing suits and ties. All around them, 65,000 empty seats.

Romney's voice boomed and echoed through the arena.

ROMNEY: I guess we had a hard time finding a large enough place to meet, and this certainly is.

SHAPIRO: He went through his plans to shrink government and lower taxes. He wants to reduce everyone's rates. He says he'll pay for the tax cuts by eliminating unspecified deductions.

ROMNEY: These changes, I will not allow to raise the deficit. Stronger economic growth, spending cuts, and broadening the base will offset the reductions.

SHAPIRO: For the most part, these are ideas Romney has talked about before. There were a few new proposals, for example, raising the Medicare eligibility age by a month each year, then locking it in to increase with life expectancy. The audience generally responded with polite applause.

Charles Stoddard sat in the crowd wearing a Romney pin from the 1968 presidential campaign of Mitt's father, George Romney.

CHARLES STODDARD: I've known the family for 50 years. We went to high school together, Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills.

SHAPIRO: What was he like in school?

STODDARD: He wasn't that good as an athlete. He wasn't that good as a scholar, but everybody liked him. He was just an all-around good guy.

SHAPIRO: What was he good at?

STODDARD: He had great people skills. People liked him.

SHAPIRO: Stoddard liked Romney's economic proposals too.

STODDARD: Sixteen trillion in debt is just going to kill us if we don't do something about it.

SHAPIRO: Do you think it's possible for him to lower taxes for everyone and still keep the debt at the level it's at or shrink it?

STODDARD: Yes, because I think the economy will grow and offset the tax cuts.

SHAPIRO: Larry Lipton, who describes himself as an independent, was less impressed.

LARRY LIPTON: I was not happy because of some of the inconsistencies.

SHAPIRO: He thinks it's disingenuous for Romney to talk about defending the guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

LIPTON: How does he provide all citizens with pursuit of happiness if he's going to cut programs to the very poorest?

SHAPIRO: Romney didn't promise to cut programs for the very poorest, but he implied those cuts might be coming.

ROMNEY: And I want to extend that conservative small government philosophy across the entire social safety net for those that are in need of our help.

SHAPIRO: Romney barely mentioned his rivals in this presidential race until the end. He took three written questions, and the third asked whether he has the best chance of defeating President Obama.

ROMNEY: I not only think I have the best chance, I think I have the only chance. Maybe I'm overstating it a bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: He said the only way to defeat President Obama is with someone who has not spent time in Washington.

ROMNEY: But Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, fine fellows, but they've spent their careers in Washington. They have as their background the same background he has. I will have credibility on the economy.

SHAPIRO: One way to tell the difference between an average Romney campaign event and a major speech is that the campaign brings out the teleprompters for the major speeches. Today, Romney often strayed from the text on the screen.

In closing, he talked extemporaneously about how much he loves Michigan, saying, as he has before, that the trees are the right height, the streets are just right. And then he casually drew attention to his own wealth as he so often has on the campaign trail.

ROMNEY: I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually.

SHAPIRO: Later, a campaign aide clarified that Ann has two Cadillac SRXs: one in California, one in Massachusetts. It's a luxury crossover SUV. Starting price: $35,000.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, traveling with the Romney campaign in Michigan.

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