Romney tells voters: Ask away
Carol LaJoie (right) and Donna Bretton greet former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as he makes the rounds during a campaign stop at Granite State Manufacturing in Manchester yesterday. He led the Republican field in fundraising for the last quarter. (Photo by Preston Gannaway / Concord Monitor)
Mitt Romney (R)
Former Governor, MA
Born: 03/12/1947
Birthplace: Michigan, CT
Home: Belmont, MA
Religion: Mormon
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Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney ended a long day of presidential campaigning yesterday at the Derry Opera House offering nearly 200 voters the chance to "Ask Mitt Anything."

That's anything, Romney teased. The crowd was enthusiastic, and most questions were easy: What to do about illegal immigration, health care and failing schools? Afterward, Eileen Williams of Dover praised Romney's business background and conservative values, but then she got right to the point. "And he's drop-dead gorgeous," she added. "And the American public likes lookers."

But Romney made even the harder questions from the less effusive audience members look easy yesterday, including one from Katherine Prudhomme-O'Brien of Derry, who wanted to know why Romney had gone from from being pro-choice to pro-life.

"I've always been personally pro-life," Romney said. "For me the role of government (on that issue) was what was uncertain." Romney said as president he would let state governments decide individually whether to legalize, outlaw or restrict abortion.

Romney reminded the crowd that other Republicans - former presidents Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush - were also pro-choice before they were pro-life.

Romney, 60, traveled the state yesterday with his son Tagg Romney and his granddaughter, 11-year-old Allie Romney. He started in Keene, stopped in Peterborough and visited Granite State Manufacturing in Manchester, where he told the day shift he was nearly a New Hampshire resident thanks to his summer estate on Lake Winnipesaukee.

He was in good spirits, and with good reason. On Monday, Romney announced that he'd brought in $23 million for the first quarter, putting him far ahead of the two candidates leading among Republicans: former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani ($15 million) and Sen. John McCain ($12.5 million). Romney acknowledged yesterday that he doesn't have the name recognition that either McCain or Giuliani enjoy, but he predicted that will change. Plus, Romney is selling himself as a Washington outsider, a successful businessman who has the experience to solve the challenges of the federal government.

"I grew up in the real world, where you have to get the job done," he said. "I want to go to Washington to get the job done and not just talk about getting the job done."

He spent about a half hour answering questions in Derry.

Bob Shine of Londonderry asked Romney how he'd fight illegal immigration. Romney received applause when he said he'd build a wall along America's border with Mexico and begin requiring immigrants to show a work permit before they could be hired.

Jim Murray of Londonderry wanted to know why Romney had contributed $2.35 million to his own campaign, when he told the Boston Globe recently that giving himself a campaign donation would be a "nightmare."

Romney said the word "nightmare" was meant as a joke and that he'd rather collect donations from others but hasn't rule out contributing to himself.

A teacher asked how Romney would improve education. Romney, who said earlier yesterday that he was opposed to bigger government, touted efforts in Massachusetts that included requiring parents in poor-performing school districts to take parental education classes and awarding four-year college scholarships to the state's best students.

Romney said he also favors giving all sixth-graders a laptop and paying bonuses to teachers who successfully teach science and math.

In response to other questions, Romney said he'd like to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil by improving the efficiency of American cars and homes but also finding new sources of fuel, including drilling for oil in Alaska.

After the Derry event, Prudhomme-O'Brien, who had asked Romney about his abortion position, said she agreed with his answer, namely that states should decide their own regulations. But she still hadn't decided whether Romney was sincere about his former abortion position or his current stance.

But she was in the minority. Brian Sample, a sophomore from St. Anslem College in Manchester grew up in Massachusetts liking Romney and considers Romney's ability to adjust his position as he gains experience an asset. "I like that he's able to re-evaluate his position once he got into the arena of government," he said.

Adam Bungent, a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, is starting a "Students for Mitt" chapter at his campus in Durham. He appreciates Romney's willingness to change his mind on the abortion question because he thinks it shows Romney is sincere.

Giuliani supports abortion rights, and Romney could have done so too, Bungent said. "It's not doing him any favors," to change his position, Bungent said. But he's supporting Romney more for his business experience and his conservative values.

Lydia Scott of Dover has joined the Romney campaign, she said, also because Romney is not a career politician. She thinks America needs a businessman. And she's certain Romney is the right candidate. "I love him," she said.