Romney Touts Less Debt, Smaller Government In Ohio

The Republican presidential candidates are focused on Super Tuesday. Ten states will have nominating contests next week. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney spent Wednesday campaigning in one of those states: Ohio.

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The battle over social issues in the Republican presidential primaries has extended through most of another week. This time the flashpoint was a remark by Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor said he opposed, and then clarified that he actually favors, legislation involving contraception.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports it was not what Romney intended to discuss in Ohio.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Mitt Romney's campaign unfurled a new banner at his event in the Columbus suburb of Bexley yesterday: More jobs, less debt, smaller government. It was a sure sign of Romney's desire to pivot back to the economy and move past social issues. After a short speech, Romney opened it up to questions from the audience, including this one.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It seems like the media portrays you that you don't have a heart, that you're a man with a vast business knowledge. But I know you have a heart.

KEITH: Asked to show he has heart, Romney talked about his wife and her diagnosis with MS, the joys of grandchildren, and his time as a lay pastor in the Mormon Church. And then he came back to his concern about the economy.

MITT ROMNEY: If I were a doctor and I saw somebody who was obviously suffering from some condition, I'd want to do something to help. Well, my experience is not in medicine. My experience is in business, and I think that's what America needs right now.

KEITH: But not long after the last question, an Internet firestorm broke out over something Romney said in a local TV interview before the event. Reporter Jim Heath of the Ohio News Network asked Romney about a controversial Senate amendment, supported by Rick Santorum, that would allow employers and insurers to opt out of covering contraceptives if they have a moral objection.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV INTERVIEW)

JIM HEATH: Blunt-Rubio is being debated, I believe, later this week, that deals with banning or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception. Have you taken a position on it? He said he was for that - we'll talk about personhood in a second. But he's for that - have you taken a position?

ROMNEY: I'm not for the bill. But look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a women, husband and wife, I'm not going there.

KEITH: Romney's campaign responded quickly, backing away from his answer. And Romney himself tried to clear things up on the Howie Carr Show, broadcast on WRKO in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)

ROMNEY: I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception, so I was simply – I misunderstood the question. And of course I support the Blunt amendment.

KEITH: And once again, the conversation has strayed from the economy.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Columbus, Ohio.

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