SUN LAKES, Ariz.-- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney drew an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd to a retirement community here where he held forth for more than an hour on issues ranging from immigration to Social Security to a potential vice presidential candidate. He had a few pointed observations to make about his chief rival in the GOP race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
On Social Security, Romney was quick to attack Perry's positions. "I don't call it a 'Ponzi scheme,'" he said referring to Perry's controversial sobriquet for the popular retirement program. "We need to make it more solvent," Romney added, "but not by giving it back to the states" - another idea that Perry has floated. His audience in this Phoenix suburb reacted appreciatively. He also suggested that Perry has created a "magnet" for illegal immigration by okaying college tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants in Texas.
Asked whether he would consider someone from the tea party as his vice presidential running mate, Romney remained non-committal but thrilled the crowd by not ruling out the possibility. "I will pick someone who could be president," he said. "I will pick someone with wisdom and judgment"
And in another that seemed designed to evoke an empathetic response from seniors in the audience, Romney said he's running for president because he wants to fix the economy for his grandchildren - joking that he wants to will them his entire estate, skipping over his sons.
At least 450 people were seated in the hall where Romney spoke and several hundred more stood in the aisles of the Oakwood Clubhouse ballroom in suburban Phoenix. The GOP hopeful took about a dozen questions. One came from 11-year-old Courtney Thom.
She told Romney she is worried her Christian school will be closed and that she will be beaten up in public school, which she didn't want. The room full of grandparents swooned and swiveled their heads, and Romney quickly responded "Well, I wouldn't want that either!"
Thom's parents, undecided voters, said they took her out of school early to bring her to the event. The youngster said she couldn't believe she got to quiz a presidential candidate. "I was like wow," she said. "I was just amazed that I was the one questioning him!"