Romney Pitches National Security, Foreign Policy Plan

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney marked the anniversary of Sept. 11 with a speech to the National Guard Association Convention in Reno, Nev. Melissa Block talks to Ari Shapiro.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today, in Reno, Nevada, Mitt Romney previewed the pitch he'll make at that foreign policy debate. National security and foreign policy were the topics of a speech he delivered at the annual National Guard convention.

MITT ROMNEY: With less than two months to go before Election Day, I would normally speak to a gathering like this about the differences between my and my opponent's plans for military and for our national security. There is a time and place for that, but this day is not that.

BLOCK: NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us from Reno. And, Ari, Mitt Romney started with his memories of 9/11. What was his message today?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Yeah, it was less partisan than a typical campaign speech. Part of it, as you say, was commemoration. He talked about where he was on 9/11. He praised the National Guard, his audience here, talking about their efforts that he just witnessed in Louisiana after Hurricane Isaac. And while he did promise not to be overtly political, he made a more subtly political argument. For example, he said, for this to be an American century, we must have a military that is second to none, that's so strong, no one would ever think of testing it.

Now that's a line in every one of his stump speeches. Usually, it's immediately followed up with an attack on President Obama for shrinking the military. This time, the follow up was implied but not spoken aloud. And Romney also tried to underscore his own foreign policy experience talking about a visit he paid to Iraq and Afghanistan as Massachusetts governor.

BLOCK: And this is one of a number of speeches that Mitt Romney has been giving to military audiences lately.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, that's right. In addition to this National Guard speech today, he was at a military aircraft museum over the weekend in Virginia Beach where there's a large military community. The week before that, he spoke to veterans at the American Legion conference in Indiana. As Mara mentioned just a moment ago, military voters are traditionally a staunch Republican group that Romney is really fighting to hold on to this election season. There are lots of swing states with large military communities. You can look at Virginia, Florida, North Carolina. Tonight, he's flying to Jacksonville, Florida, where there are a lot of military folks.

And of course today, we're in the swing state of Nevada, even though his audience here is a national one attending this National Guard convention from all over the country. In all of these events, his message is that he won't shrink the military budget and, as he put it today, the U.S. has to have a strong military because on September 10, this country had no idea that we would soon be going to war in Afghanistan.

BLOCK: Ari, a couple of recent polls seem to show Mitt Romney losing ground after the Democratic convention in Charlotte with President Obama getting a bounce. What are the latest numbers?

SHAPIRO: Yeah, well, in the last 24 hours, we saw two major new polls. This morning The Washington Post and ABC surveyed likely voters. They show the president leading among likely voters by just one point, but among registered voters, there was a six-point gap, 50 percent to 44 percent favoring the president. Interestingly, this poll asked voters to compare the two candidates on 15 different items, everything from likability to taxes.

On eight of those items, the president had a wide lead over Romney. On the rest, they were basically tied. There was not one item where Romney had a wide lead over the president. We also had a new poll yesterday of likely voters from CNN. It showed a six-point lead for Mr. Obama, and as of today, Gallup also has the president up by six points. The Romney campaign dismisses this as a sugar high that will fade after the convention is in the past. And to be sure, these leads are not insurmountable, but they are consistent across polls and they're bigger than they were a few weeks ago.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro traveling with the Romney campaign in Reno, Nevada. Ari, thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you.

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