CONWAY, N.H. - After a day in northern New Hampshire that included sprinting up streets to knock on doors, pumping gas for his 45- foot-long bus and buying a Christmas gift for his wife, Mitt Romney returned on Thursday to the campaign setting where he has felt most at home -- a town hall meeting.
Speaking in front of more than 100 people at Kennett Middle School in Conway, Romney spoke on the economy as well as a range of other topics. It was the last event in a day of six - his most yet in a single 24-hour span. The reason for so much activity: Even though polls show him with a solid double-digit lead in the Granite State, a decisive victory here would dampen the momentum of whoever might best him in the earlier Iowa caucuses.
His campaign made sure to include numerous personal touches, part of an effort to get past the image that both Republicans and Democrats have crafted for him. His wife, Ann, who had tagged along with him all day, introduced him and told the crowd that she remembers in his days as a businessman, when she was raising their five sons, he would call home and tell her, `Remember Ann, what you're doing is more important than what I'm doing.'"
Romney began his remarks by heralding the news of President George H.W. Bush's endorsement. Romney, who has been friendly with Bush for years and met with him weeks ago at the former president's Houston home, called Bush an "American patriot and extraordinary leader."
Though the audience questions focused mostly on jobs, the economy and immigration, Romney also fielded on some topics he doesn't often address. One man, whose son had died to a drug overdose, asked him what he would do about the war on drugs. Romney spoke about the need for further educating youth about the dangers of narcotics: "I don't think they'd think it was so cool if they knew people were dying" all over the world because of the money they might be using to pay for drugs with.
A young questioner asked about previous comments he had made about not necessarily needing to attend the best college in the country, because the prices were too high and the student loans "overwhelming." She noted that this made her generation feel like he was not a viable option.
After Romney asked about the virtues of a low-cost education, the girl responded: "We're greatly interested in lower cost but ... we don't feel the quality is there, that's what we've been told by future employers that that's what they're looking for. So we're still forced into the higher priced college institutions."
"As a former employer, I can tell you that I'm interested in you getting the best eduction you can get for what you can afford," answered Romney, who attended Stanford and Brigham Young University. "And by the way, I went to an institution that's not world-renowned as one of the best institutions in the world - [but] I was able to get into a good grad school [Harvard], get a good job afterwards. I can tell you the idea of going to a very high-priced university is not necessarily the only gateway into a great job, and so I do believe in competition and I do believe that institutions of higher learning are charging too much. And they are going to have to find ways to provide education at ways they can afford."
He then tied her concerns to his campaign: "What I can promise you is this: when you get out of college, if I'm elected, you will have a job. If President Obama's re-elected, you will not be able to get a job."