Romney on the Road

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spent this week in California talking with voters and raising money. While standing by President Bush on the war, the former Massachusetts governor has sought to distance himself from the Bush legacy on the budget, the environment and health care.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani picked up the endorsement today of former California Governor Pete Wilson. Giuliani, like Wilson, is a moderate on social issues. And a recent poll shows the former New York City mayor leading among Republican voters in California. Mitt Romney is not far behind in that poll. The former Massachusetts governor is wrapping up a five-day campaign swing through California today.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Romney is telling voters in California that America faces serious challenges, not only abroad, but also here at home. He says we're spending too much, using too much foreign oil, our schools are falling behind, and the health care system is inadequate. Speaking to a town hall meeting in conservative Orange County, Romney went on to say Republicans are partly to blame.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican, 2008 Presidential Candidate): It's always politically popular to say that all the problems in America are the result of the opposition party. And tempting as that is, I think we have to be honest and say, as a matter of fact, change is going to have to begin with us.

HORSLEY: Romney echoes that theme in television ads now running in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. In doing so, Romney has made a deliberate break from unpopular GOP leaders in Washington, though he insisted - during a stop in Long Beach - it's not a direct attack on President Bush.

Mr. ROMNEY: I'm certainly not a carbon copy of the President, but I'm not criticizing any one person. I'm not here to point fingers at anyone. The challenges that America faces have been built up over decades, not over a few years.

HORSLEY: Romney says Republicans should not shy away from issues like health care and education, which are prominent in California. But in tackling those issues, he says Republicans shouldn't abandon their limited-government beliefs.

Mr. ROMNEY: Big spending and fiscal irresponsibility are not part of our heritage as Republicans. If Republicans act like Democrats, America loses.

HORSLEY: So far, Romney is not distancing himself from President Bush on the administration's most unpopular position - the Iraq war. While Romney concedes the war was under-managed early on, he says the current strategy, engineered by General Petraeus, is fundamentally working. He adds the military should be expanded by 100,000 troops, so units get more time at home between deployments. Romney's Iraq policy drew a protest during the Orange County town hall meeting from a group called Military Families Speak Out. Pat Alviso's son, Bethelm(ph) is just back from his second tour in Iraq.

Ms. PAT ALVISO (Member, Military Families Speak Out): We almost have 4,000 Americans that have died in this war. And there's no end in sight. Why are you not listening to the people? And how can you ask for 100,000 more soldiers to come and fight in this war, when your five grown sons are not in the military? How can you expect us to respect you?

HORSLEY: Romney responded that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq could leave a safe haven for terrorists, a prospect he called unacceptable. Alviso was not persuaded, but some other Californians who heard Romney speak this week were won over, including Karen Reynolds(ph).

Ms. KAREN REYNOLDS (California Resident): He's got great ideas. First -wonderful for the economy. He's great on families and for values, for keeping us safe. That's important, to keep us safe.

HORSLEY: In addition to courting voters this week, Romney is busy raising money in the Golden State. The third quarter ends this weekend and Romney hopes to finish with an impressive war chest. He's also been tapping his personal fortune, which he made as a venture capitalist.

Mr. ROMNEY: This, for me, is a race I'm investing in at least as much as everybody else, probably a lot more. My family - that's the only group I'm really beholding to - their willingness to let their inheritance slip away dollar by dollar.

HORSLEY: Californians were the biggest contributors to Romney in the first six months of the year, followed by residents of Utah. Romney heads for another big fundraiser tomorrow in Salt Lake City.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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