By John Toole
SALEM — Mitt Romney yesterday said his business experience makes him a better choice to revive the economy than Rick Santorum, while attacking President Obama over defense cuts and labor policies.
Romney was joined by former rival John McCain, the senator from Arizona who this week endorsed Romney, at a rally at the Boys and Girls Club before about 225 people. He later had an interview with The Eagle-Tribune's editorial board.
The former Massachusetts governor is coming off a narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses and is hoping the polls are accurate that show him on track for a big win in New Hampshire Tuesday.
Romney critics have demeaned his Iowa victory, saying the eight-vote difference over runner-up Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, points to political weakness.
"Look, I was delighted to be in the win column there by the slightest of margins. It was a come-from-behind effort," Romney said in the interview. "And I was pleased to be able to get back at the top of the pile, tied for all intents and purposes with Sen. Santorum."
Romney said the fundamental difference between him and Santorum is his 25 years in business.
"The 25 years of my career spent in the private economy helps me understand the power of the American experiment, the danger of the president's transformation of our private economy and the way forward to create jobs again," Romney said.
"Rick, like others on the platform, has spent his career in politics," Romney said. "There's nothing wrong with that. It's an important contribution. But it's a different background at a time when we have to have someone who understands how the economy works."
McCain, the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, was critical of Santorum's spending decisions in the Senate.
"He was an advocate, he was a defender and he was vociferous in his belief in earmarking and pork-barreling on the grounds it was his job to get money back to his state," McCain said.
Obama took repeated hits from Romney, both in the interview and at the rally, for his economic policies, appointees to the National Labor Relations Board that Romney characterized as "crony capitalism" and for defense cuts the president is pursuing.
"He is a job killer," Romney said during the rally.
The president's latest defense cuts are being unveiled this week, but cuts already proposed by the president, in combination with the debt ceiling deal in Washington, amount to $950 billion over a decade, Romney said in the interview.
"I think it's the wrong course to gut our military," Romney said. "We have a strong military to prevent war. A strong military reduces the threat of adventurism by dangerous people."
Romney acknowledged there is waste in the Pentagon. He said he would go after that waste to rebuild an aging Air Force and Navy, for troops on the ground and to take care of veterans.
He continued to emphasize a pro-growth economic message during his Salem stop.
"I can get America working again, not just with good jobs, but with the values and principles that drove America to be the most powerful nation in the world," Romney said in the interview. "I'm running not to protect the 1 percent. They're doing just fine. I'm running to help the 99 percent that are in trouble by this president's economy."
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