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Party activists prod Romney



Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011
Mitt Romney weathered pointed questions from independents and Democrats at a town hall event last night at a senior center in Lebanon.

Standing in the middle of a packed room, Romney gave a 10-minute speech about favoring the American people over the United States government. He then opened up the floor to questions.

Lynn Rubino, 64, a registered Democrat from West Lebanon, went back and forth with the former Massachusetts governor about the solvency of Social Security, asking him why he wouldn't support raising the cap on taxable income, which is currently set at $106,000.

Romney equated that approach to "raising taxes," a proposition he does not favor. He will not change Social Security for current retirees, but the program will likely differ for younger generations, he said.

Despite prodding from Rubino, he didn't say how he would reform the system.

Michael Hillinger, a 60-year-old registered independent from Etna, asked Romney about his views on global warming. Romney has previously been quoted as saying he believes the world is getting warmer and humans are contributing to that. Last night he said he wasn't sure what role humans are playing in global warming.

"I think what he's doing is he's backpedaling. . . . It looks like he's looking over his shoulder. He's saying, 'The base doesn't like the support of (the concept of) global warming so I'm going to temper it.' Unfortunately, it's really a sad state of affairs when you have to deny science to get the politics," Hillinger said.

Deb Nelson, a Democratic activist from Hanover, told Romney she had a number of concerns about his candidacy and "I don't really know where to start with them." Settling on one, she criticized Romney's push for a constitutional amendment requiring the federal government to balance its budget. In the past year, $9 billion has been spent on disaster relief, she said.

"It's all well and good and probably what your audience wants to hear you say, 'I'm going to hold the line, I'm going to have a balanced budget, the federal government's going to stay out' - but when we have these disasters, people turn and expect the government to help them," she said.

"Of course we take care of America when there's natural disasters, of course we honor our promises to seniors," Romney replied.

"But it costs money," Nelson retorted during an exchange that led to the pair speaking over each other.

"Of course it costs money, but not more than you take in. Fifty states in America balance their budgets every year," Romney said as Nelson continued to protest. "You had your turn madam, let me have mine."

Doris Nelson, 70, an independent voter from Norwich, Vt., asked Romney about the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend money freely on political ads during presidential campaigns.

Romney noted that the unions are also now allowed to buy ads, and newspaper companies have long been free to advocate in their pages for certain candidates. Romney, a businessman, has made headlines with his assertion that corporations are the same as people.

Romney said he wants to see "people be able to make contributions to campaigns and know who made the contributions."

"I don't like all the influence of money in politics, but I don't have a solution that's a lot better than saying, 'You know what, let people contribute what they will, and have them report it,' " he said.

That led Nelson to ask Romney about a $1 million donation in April to a Romney political action group by a nameless corporation that formed and dissolved shortly before and after donating the money.

Ed Conard, a business partner of Romney's, later came forward as the man behind the donation.

"There's a guy named Ed Conard who had a company - I think he was going to give to a bunch of candidates and then he decided not to," Romney said. "He gave a million dollars to a PAC that supports me and then he said, 'Oh, it's me,' "

"He's given to me before - one of my partners - so it's not hidden. All out in the open."

After about a half-hour, Romney wrapped up the questions.

"This is the most fun I've had in a long time," he said. "This is what's so fun about town meetings in New Hampshire. You guys care. You're informed."

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said taking direct questions from voters is "part of the process" in New Hampshire politics.

"Gov. Romney is going to earn every vote and expects tough questions at every stop," Williams said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)