EXETER — As many as 400 packed Exeter Town Hall on Sunday for a chance to meet Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann.
With the crowd gathered in the round and an enormous American flag covering one wall as a backdrop, the scene looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
And while the Romneys and their 14-month-old grandson charmed the crowd, the subjects Romney addressed in his "Ask Mitt Anything" forum — including jihad, radical Islam, health care and the environment — were anything but classic Americana.
Diane Morgera of Stratham, whose son, Airman 1st Class Peter Morgera, was killed in the terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, said she likes Romney's approach to the war on terrorism.
Gaylee Dean of Newmarket called him "the classiest guy running."
"I have really been surprised by how much I enjoy campaigning," Ann Romney told the crowd just before her husband spoke. She called it "an honor" to be meeting the people of America on the campaign trail.
In a speech before taking questions, Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said he would strengthen the American military, the economy and the family.
In the question-and-answer session, he said health insurance for all Americans should come through the private sector and not the government.
"I don't want to have the guy that ran the (Hurricane) Katrina cleanup running my health care system," he said. "We found a way (in Massachusetts) to get everyone insured without raising taxes."
Romney said he would advocate a tax break for middle-class citizens trying to save money for things such as their children's education. "That tax rate should be zero percent," he said.
He had much to say about family values and teaching values to young people. One lesson, he said, is that "marriage comes before babies."
"Kids deserve to have a mom and a dad."
Romney said he is in favor of drilling for oil in Alaska because the United States needs to become less dependent on foreign oil, and that the U.S. must increase the size of its military and help moderate Muslims threatened by jihad and radical Islam.
Except for one heckler — a young man who objected to a photo of Romney standing with a South Carolina resident holding a sign he considered objectionable — the crowd seemed to love the candidate.
"I think he did very well," said Skip Webb of Hampton, who attended with his wife, Lizbeth.
"He's a sharp guy," said Chris Nevins, chairman of Hampton's Republican Committee.