MOUNT VERNON, Ohio -- Any U.S. involvement in the ongoing conflict in Syria should focus on identifying "reasonable and responsible people" who could lead a new government and any American role in the situation "doesn't mean sending troops or dropping bombs," Mitt Romney said Wednesday.
"My own view is in a place like Syria for instance we should, through our partners in the region, work to identify dissidents within Syria that are reasonable and responsible people, try and coalesce, them bring them together," the GOP presidential candidate said in response to a question during a town hall meeting here with factory workers.
The question -- from a voter concerned with rising instability in the Middle East -- provided Romney an opportunity to expand on comments made Monday during a major foreign policy address. During a speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney vowed to “change course in the Middle East,” including by taking a hard line on Iran and arming Syrian rebels.
Romney said Wednesday that Syrian rebels should be armed "so that they can defend themselves and they can promote their agenda.
"We should play an active role. That doesn't mean sending in troops or dropping bombs," he added. "But it does mean actively participating in a place like Syria to assure that Assad goes and that a reasonable and responsible government follows."
Romney held the town hall meeting at the start of a three-stop swing across central and northern Ohio, a pace perhaps more suited for a Buckeye State gubernatorial candidate, but critical nonetheless if he is to capture the must-win state on his path to the presidency.
At his side once again Wednesday were New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who has played President Obama during debate rehearsals.
Christie earned louder, more enthusiastic cheers than Romney on Tuesday night at a rally with 12,000 supporters in Akron. On Wednesday, Christie introduced Romney by saying: “I will guarantee you this everybody you’re about to hear from the next president of the United States of America.”
Before his remarks, Romney took a 10-minute tour of the Ariel Corporation, which touts itself as "the world's largest manufacturer of separable reciprocating gas compressors" used to extract and distribute natural gas. It employs roughly 1,400 people across Ohio.