GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Republican Mitt Romney recited a schoolyard ditty Thursday to underscore his argument that traditional marriage is essential for improving education.
"First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage," the presidential hopeful told a crowd of about 175 people gathered at a private club.
The former Massachusetts governor said student success is closely tied to married couples getting involved in their children’s education. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay marriages.
"Every child in America deserves a mom and a dad," Romney said. "We’ve got to have marriage before we have babies if we’re going to have parental involvement in our schools."
Romney also told the crowd that he favors the establishment of charter schools and a system of increased pay for some teachers.
"It’s time for teaching to be recognized as the profession it is. This is not making widgets," he said.
Education and family play well in South Carolina, which will hold the first primary in the South in less than a year.
Romney has to appeal to conservative Christians here, and some of them have questioned whether his Mormon faith adheres to fundamental Christian values. The self-described religious right here accounted for a third of the GOP presidential primary in 2000.
But Romney has found key support from U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who describes himself as an evangelical Christian.
"What he’s done is translate his faith into a set of moral principles that we can all agree on," DeMint said.
Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who by far have the two largest campaign organizations in the state, are doing all they can to appeal to conservative Christians, with much of that push coming on the topic of abortion.
In the 2000 primary, then Texas-Gov. George Bush won here as he waged a campaign undercutting McCain’s position on abortion.
In 1998, McCain said he opposed abortion, but that he was concerned that overturning a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion could pose a threat to women’s health. He later said he misspoke, but the Bush campaign seized on the issue. On Sunday, McCain told a crowd in Spartanburg he wants the Supreme Court ruling overturned.
Romney supported abortion rights until two years ago, when he says he had a change of heart during a legislative debate on stem cell research.
Meanwhile, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has made a clean break from both of those candidates on the issue of abortion, saying Wednesday in Spartanburg that "I believe that a woman has the right to choose."
Romney started his day at a Rock Hill breakfast meeting and was to end it at a Spartanburg County Republican Party event.