By Paul Gable
A surprising crowd of approximately 500 people came to see Mitt Romney and Gov. Nikki Haley at the Horry-Georgetown Technical College campus in Myrtle Beach Saturday.
On the weekend before Christmas and with only one day advance notice, the enthusiastic turnout may demonstrate a turn in Romney’s support in South Carolina. He has been trailing Newt Gingrich by double digit polls recently conducted in the state.
Some in the crowd, however, were just drawn by the opportunity to see a presidential candidate. At least six attendees told this reporter they were relatively solid in their support for Gingrich and one couple supporting Obama came to see Romney.
However, many Romney supporters were present and others, still trying to make up their minds, wanted to hear Romney’s position on issues.
Leading off the event was Romney’s wife Ann who told the crowd about the Mitt Romney she knows. Without mentioning Gingrich, she quickly took a jab at Gingrich’s personal baggage.
“We were high school sweethearts and are still in love 42 years later with five sons, five daughters-in-law and 16 grandchildren,” said Ann Romney. “I have seen Mitt as a husband, father, businessman and governor. America is going in the wrong direction. We don’t like it and we want to change it.”
Gov. Haley said she came to her decision to endorse Romney because the hardest job she faces as governor is dealing with the federal government.
“Our biggest issues are jobs, the economy and spending,” said Haley. “The biggest problem I deal with every day is dealing with the federal government. I decided I would not endorse anybody with ties to Washington (D.C.).”
This election is not about what we say, but about what we do,” said Haley, also taking a swipe at Gingrich.
“Gov. Romney turned around an underachieving business, an Olympics in disarray and balanced the budget in Massachusetts,” Haley continued. “Gov. Romney is the only one Obama hits over and over. He is the one that can win.”
Romney told the crowd he learned his love of America from his parents and the family trips they took to see the country.
“I don’t believe President Obama understands what makes our country strong,” said Romney. “It is not government telling us what to do but an America that allows us to be free to pursue our own passions. It is free people, not big government that makes us strong.”
Putting forth his conservative credentials, Romney said it was immoral for American citizens to pass off to the next generations a huge debt that can’t be paid off. Romney also said it was not time to cut the defense budget. He proposed increasing defense spending, increasing the number of active duty troops and increasing the number of Navy ships.
However, answering a question of whether he regretted passing “Romney Care” , a reference to the comprehensive healthcare legislation passed in Massachusetts when he was governor, Romney said, “I am proud of what we did in Massachusetts and don’t regret it.”
Following up, Romney said the legislation was aimed at those Massachusetts citizens who refused to buy healthcare and used the hospital emergency rooms to provide “free” care when they needed it.
“People were using emergency rooms for free,” Romney said. “What we came up with wasn’t perfect, but I don’t regret it.”
He said his first day in office he would take action to repeal “Obama Care” and he hopes the Supreme Court will rule the legislation unconstitutional.
One of the constitutional questions the Supreme Court will consider in this term is whether it is unconstitutional to require all American citizens to purchase healthcare, exactly the same provision the Massachusetts law requires.
However, Romney moved away from Tea Party principles when he told the crowd, mostly of retirees who moved to the area from other states, that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security provided a safety net for Americans.
“We have to make sure that Medicare is there for not only today’s retirees but also future retirees, those in their 20’s now,” Romney said. “We have to make sure the safety net is repaired and in place. It it time for us to care for our fellow men and women.”
Later, on a question of compromise in Washington, Romney said he thought there was common ground that could be found among Republicans and Democrats on some issues.
He said action needed to be taken to make the country independent from foreign oil, a refrain that has emanated from successive administrations since Richard Nixon’s presidency. Romney said education was the responsibility of the states and that illegal immigrants needed to be sent home.
“I would build a fence on our borders and hire enough agents to secure the fence,” Romney said. “We need to crack down on employers who hire illegals and there should be no special pathway to becoming legal to those illegals currently in our country.”
Summing up his qualifications, Romney said, “I believe if we have a leader who will draw on the patriotism of the American people and who will lead, we can overcome (the problems the nation faces today).”
Some of Romney’s message was targeted at the conservatism of South Carolina, some seemed to veer away from it. Whether Haley’s endorsement will help Romney cut into the Gingrich lead will be known in a month when the South Carolina presidential primary is held January 21, 2012. The size of the crowd Saturday, however, is a reason for optimism in the Romney camp.