QUAKERTOWN, Pa. — Standing in front of his campaign tour bus, Mitt Romney on Saturday told religious conservatives he would do “the opposite” of what President Obama has done on Israel.
Romney spent most of the day appealing to voters in Pennsylvania, a battleground state he said he would win in the fall, although Democrats succeeded in pushing his bus tour through the state off of its original itinerary.
“I am going to win Pennsylvania,” Romney told a cheering crowd in Cornwall, a small town in the center of the state, as his campaign bus rolled through on the second day of a five-day, six-state tour.
Romney took some time out of his tour to address religious conservatives at the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Washington via video uplink, telling the crowd he believes the president is more concerned about Israel attacking Iran than he is about Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. His hawkish speech was the first time he’s discussed policy toward Israel at length since becoming the likely Republican presidential nominee.
“I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite,” Romney said when asked about Israel. He spoke to the gathering of religious conservatives from Weatherly, Pa., via video uplink with his campaign bus in the background.
Of Iran, Romney said: “He’s almost sounded like he’s more frightened that Israel might take military action than he’s concerned that Iran might become nuclear.”
Democrats accused Romney of distorting Obama’s record on Israel. Spokesman Ben LaBolt said Obama has given Israel more security assistance than any other administration and has stood with Israel at the United Nations.
After his address, Romney’s bus continued on to Quakertown, where Democratic protests forced him to take a detour. Romney rerouted his tour after former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and several other Democratic officials held a press conference outside the Wawa gas station where the former Massachusetts governor had planned an early afternoon stop. Protestors gathered outside the store.
So Romney decided to visit a different Wawa store instead.
“Why we’re at this Wawa, instead of the other Wawa?” Romney said as he paid for a meatball hoagie. “I understand I had a surrogate over there already, so we decided to pick a different place. My surrogate is former Gov. Rendell, who said we could win Pennsylvania.”
Instead of making prepared remarks to the crowd gathered outside the first location — Romney’s advance team had set up a microphone — the Republican’s bus went instead to the second Quakertown Wawa and made a quick tour through the store.
The detour threw Romney off the jobs-and-economy message he had been pushing earlier in the day.
“I think we have to have a very careful review of who’s giving a fair shot to the American people,” Romney told a crowd of several hundred packed into a warehouse at Weatherly Casting and Machine Co., next to the train tracks that run through Weatherly, Pa., about 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
That stop was the first of three appearances in small towns in this state with 20 electoral votes that Obama won in 2008 with 54 percent. No Republican presidential nominee has carried the state since 1988.
The tour is intended to challenge Obama in states where he’s strong. Romney is targeting smaller cities and towns through the state’s more conservative midsection. Weatherly is in Carbon County, which Obama narrowly carried in 2008.
Romney also stopped Quakertown, in Bucks County, as well as at Cornwall Iron Furnace, a national historic landmark. That’s in Lebanon County, which GOP nominee John McCain won in 2008.
Romney also took time to do an interview for CBS News’ “Face the Nation” program. Sunday will mark the first time he has appeared on a weekend political talk show since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.
Romney told host Bob Schieffer that the president’s decision to allow some young illegal immigrants to stay in the country instead of deporting them was a largely political move.
“If (Obama) really wanted to make a solution that dealt with these kids or illegal immigration in America, than this is something he would have taken up in his first three and a half years, not in his last few months,” Romney said.
Romney is on a bus tour, but he planned to fly each night to the next state and ride from town to town during the day. It’s his first traditional campaign swing since the primary and is aimed at undecided voters in six pivotal states won by Obama four years ago: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.
The tour represents a new mode for Romney in the general election. During the primary, Romney sometimes ran into trouble in less-scripted environments, and the bus tour probably will test him again. He also has long faced questions about his ability to connect with average people.
His efforts to connect were clearly on display Saturday, when he was careful to learn the Pennsylvania word for submarine sandwiches — hoagies — and noted the intra-state rivalry between Wawa, which is popular in eastern Pennsylvania, and Sheetz, another convenience store that’s the favorite in the western part of the state.
Unfortunately, Romney chose the town closest to the state’s geographic center — Cornwall is near Harrisburg — and the crowd was split.
And then: “I’m sorry, I know there’s a very big state divide.”