Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes his way around Geno’s Chowder and Sandwich Shop in Portsmouth during one of several stops around the Seacoast on Thursday. (Deb Cram photo / SMG)
PORTSMOUTH — Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Thursday he's convinced Washington is broken and that he's committed to enacting the changes necessary to fix it.
"If there has ever been a time we need to change in Washington, that time is now," said Romney during a speech at a Portsmouth Rotary luncheon.
The former Massachusetts governor also made stops at Geno's Chowder and Sandwhich Shop, the Stratham Agway and the Galley Hatch Conference Center in Hampton, marking his first visit to the Seacoast since announcing his intent to run for president.
Romney fielded questions on health care, immigration, the war in Iraq and American dependence on foreign oil. He maintained that the greatest challenge facing the country is the spread of radical jihadists and the associated threat of nuclear proliferation.
"It's so important that we as a nation say we're not going to sit back and take it," said Romney.
When asked about the war in Iraq, Romney said he supports the president's troop surge and that within a matter of months, the country will know if it was successful.
"We all want our troops home as soon as we can possibly get them home, but we don't want to bring them home in a way that would cause a massive civil war that would make Afghanistan look like child's play," he said.
Romney also acknowledged that he understands why many Americans are frustrated with some of the ways the war has been handled.
"I think that the American people are a little angry about the fact that we didn't do a good job over the last three years in some respects," he said. "We were under-prepared for what happened."
The former governor pointed to the Abu Ghraib scandal as evidence the country was, at times over the past few years, not effectively managed.
"We contributed in part to the fact that we're still there and that's something that angers a lot of folks - and I understand that entirely," said Romney. "But walking away right now I don't think is the right course because of the additional associated risks."
At Geno's, Romney briefly detailed a two-part plan he said he would use to combat illegal immigration. The first part, he said, would be to use whatever means necessary to secure the country's borders. The second half of the plan called for a new employment verification system.
Legal aliens, Romney said, would be issued an identification card that would have to be verified by employers before they're hired. If employers hire aliens without proper identification, they would be subject to sanctions, according to Romney.