YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - With Democrats taking the upper hand in election-year debates over contraception and college affordability, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday tried to take the edge off the party brand, telling a town hall crowd, "We care about people."
"What the president, the Democrats, always do is, they want to make Republicans look like they're heartless," Romney said on the eve of Super Tuesday contests in 10 states. "Actually, we care about people. We care about education. We care about the students more than the teachers' union, alright? So we put our kids first."
He described other ways the Republican Party had helped people in need, such as its push for welfare reform in the 1990s. He also cited the health care bill he enacted as governor of Massachusetts, although his rivals for the GOP nomination have frequently tried to use it against him, saying it served as the model for President Obama's health care plan. Romney boasted that the plan was put into effect without a tax hike or cuts in Medicare benefits.
Despite the strong similarities in the Massachusetts plan and the national version, Romney tried to draw distinctions, noting that Obama's plan was passed without Republican support. "How come you forced through your plan without a single Republican vote?" Romney asked rhetorically. "How come you didn't listen to the fact that the people of Massachusetts voted for (Sen.) Scott Brown to stop Obama-care? How come, Mr. President, you imposed this on the American people when we didn't want it?"
He portrayed himself as an underdog in a potential fall matchup with Obama. "He's raising millions of dollars every month, and has an organization, I'm told ... that he has 491 members of his staff, his campaign staff. This is a huge juggernaut effort," Romney said.
The Romney campaign has claimed to have fewer than 100 staffers. The Obama campaign does not disclose its number of workers.
Lately, Republicans have been on the defensive for opposing health insurance coverage of contraception in all cases, which Democrats and women's groups have portrayed as an attack on women. And GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum was roundly criticized for calling Obama a "snob" for policies designed to boost college enrollment.