Romney Accuses Obama Of Stifling Innovation

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney campaigned in Illinois on Monday, one day ahead of the state's Republican primary. Among other events, Romney delivered an economic policy speech at the University of Chicago, a center of free-market economic thought.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Mitt Romney spent the final day before the Illinois Republican primary campaigning across that state. Once again, Romney is trying for a strong enough finish to force his rivals out of the race, but they show no sign of dropping out.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with Romney whose main event in Illinois today was an economic speech at the University of Chicago.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In the last few weeks, this presidential race has become a math nerd's dream. With eye-glazing talk of varying delegate tallies and accumulations county by county, here's how Professor William Howell introduced Mitt Romney at the University of Chicago this afternoon.

WILLIAM HOWELL: The delegate count is 516 for Mitt Romney. Santorum is the closest one up, and he doesn't quite have half of that at 236.

SHAPIRO: It's wonky, it's incremental, and as Romney said yesterday on Fox News, it's not exactly inspirational.

MITT ROMNEY: I know a lot of people will talk about delegates and strategies and math - and that's all very interesting to the insiders - but I think the American people want to see someone who has the leadership skill and experience to defeat the president.

SHAPIRO: So today, he tried to rise above the math.

ROMNEY: If we continue along this path, our lives will be ruled by bureaucrats and boards and commissions and czars.

SHAPIRO: In a speech at the University of Chicago, Romney laid out the reasons he believes in smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation. He said President Obama's approach to governing stifles innovation and squelches the economic recovery.

ROMNEY: A regulator would've shut down the Wright Brothers for their dust pollution.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: And the government would've banned Thomas Edison's light bulb. Oh, yeah. They just did.

SHAPIRO: That's a reference to Congress's effort to eliminate traditional light bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient ones. Even the nonverbal parts of this speech were designed to target President Obama.

The University of Chicago is known as the bastion of conservative economic theory. It's also the place where a young Barack Obama taught law students, and it's a mere 15-minute drive from the Obama 2012 re-election headquarters, not even 10 miles across town.

REPRESENTATIVE AARON SCHOCK: You know, it doesn't hurt to be in the president's hometown.

SHAPIRO: Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock has been on the road with Romney for the last few days.

SCHOCK: Senator Santorum and Newt Gingrich have been taking a lot of potshots at the governor. And so I think it's important for him to stay positive, to be - to talk about what he stands for, what he intends to do.

SHAPIRO: Romney has taken his share of potshots at the other two as well. Today, his campaign released a Web video with tape of Santorum endorsing Romney in 2008.

At today's event, many in the audience were students. This is Jeffrey Niedermeier's first time voting in a presidential election.

JEFFREY NIEDERMEIER: I consider myself pretty independent, but I have to say I'm pretty disappointed with a lot of the candidates in the race right now on both sides.

SHAPIRO: He studies international relations and says he has not heard a clear grand strategy on foreign policy that satisfies him.

NIEDERMEIER: I hear a lot of pandering on both sides, you know, attacking China, you know, kind of this general panic about Iran.

SHAPIRO: And there's also a serious case of election fatigue going around.

BRENDA ZYLSTRA: OK. I'll be honest. I have stopped listening to this primary a long time ago, because I think it's really malicious and problematic. And I don't like the way that it's going.

SHAPIRO: Brenda Zylstra describes herself as a conservative who's not crazy about the Republican Party today. She's even less crazy about this year's campaign.

ZYLSTRA: The ups and downs, you know, all these different people have been in first place, and then they're not anymore. And it's just ridiculous that, you know, like somebody like Newt Gingrich was even in first place for 10 minutes. I mean, that's - I was just rolling my eyes and just stopped listening, you know, like last summer, probably.

SHAPIRO: The Romney team shares that frustration and fatigue, but they have found no way to make the treadmill stop. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Chicago.

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