GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — Appearing for the first time with Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) since the two became a ticket last weekend, Republican Mitt Romney avoided Medicare — the politically treacherous issue that has consumed the presidential race — and instead sharpened his attacks on President Obama on a wide range of other issues.
At an elaborately produced town hall meeting staged on a tranquil college quad here, Romney tore into Obama over his record as commander in chief, accusing the president of neglecting to communicate with the American people about the war in Afghanistan and of throwing the Israeli prime minister “under the bus.”
“When our men and woman are in harm’s way, I expect the president of the United States to address the nation on a regular basis and explain what’s happening and why they’re there, what the mission is, what its purpose is, how we’ll know when it’s completed,” Romney said. “Other presidents have done this. We haven’t heard this president do this.”
Romney added, “There are people overseas that are fighting for us, who are responding to the call of the commander in chief, and he ought to be reporting to their parents and their communities and the people of America.”
Romney’s statement came in response to a veteran who asked the running mates what they would do about “this damn mess in Afghanistan.” Romney did not lay out a plan other than to pledge to do “everything in my power” to transition control from U.S. forces to the Afghan military and to “bring our men and women home and do so in a way consistent with our mission.”
Romney’s vagueness drew a swift reply from the Obama campaign, which issued a statement calling on Romney to reveal his “secret plan” for managing the conflict in Afghanistan. Obama has said he would end the war by the end of 2014.
“The truth is that Romney has refused to put forth a plan for what he would do in Afghanistan,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. “If he does have some secret plan, he owes it to our men and women in uniform to tell them.”
Romney and Ryan took turns answering more than a half dozen questions from voters at what campaign aides said was Romney’s 100th town hall meeting since launching his candidacy in June 2011.
More than 3,000 voters surrounded them in folding chairs and bleachers, making up the largest crowd Romney has ever assembled in New Hampshire — a swing state bordering Romney’s home state of Massachusetts that the former governor has turned into a home base for his campaign.
“I feel like I’m almost a New Hampshire resident,” noted Romney, who owns a vacation home here on Lake Winnipesaukee. He quipped, “It would save me some tax dollars.”
Romney and Ryan made a grand entrance here, stepping out of their motorcade to the soundtrack of “Rudy,” as they walked across the quad at Saint Anselm College. On Saturday, Obama held two campaign events in New Hampshire, and at Monday morning’s town hall meeting Romney appealed for support from some of the president’s 2008 supporters.
“I’d like you to find one person who voted for Barack Obama and convince them to vote for Paul Ryan and me,” Romney told the crowd.
Romney and Ryan were expected to talk about Medicare, an issue thrust to the forefront of the presidential contest with Romney’s selection of Ryan, the chief architect of a Republican budget that would overhaul the federal retiree health care program, as his vice presidential running mate.
Ryan, in his opening remarks here, briefly defended their Medicare plan and attacked Obama for $716 billion in Medicare spending cuts contained in the president’s broader health care overhaul.
“We’ve heard a little bit about Medicare lately from the president,” Ryan said. “We want this debate. We need this debate. And we are going to win this debate about Medicare.”
But Romney did not mention Medicare at all in his remarks, and no questioners raised the issue. Romney’s chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, cautioned against reading too much into this, saying Romney was not backing down from the Medicare issue.
“We can definitely win on it,” Stevens told reporters. He added, “It’s a winning issue for us and a losing issue for them, which is why we brought it up first and they’re scrambling to keep up.”
Romney and Ryan both lashed out at Obama over what they consider the administration’s weak support of Israel.
“Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East,” Ryan said. “Let’s treat them as if they’re our strongest ally in the Middle East.”
Romney criticized Obama for ongoing negotiations with Iran, saying he was “throwing Bibi Netanyahu under the bus,” referencing the Israeli prime minister.
Romney brought up Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments last week about Israel being a “tumor.”
“The awful, offensive, obnoxious things he said about Israel should lead him to being indicted under the genocide convention, his people being treated like the pariah they are, his diplomats, and we should always make sure they recognize that to the United States of America, Iran becoming nuclear is unacceptable,” Romney said.
Romney and Ryan also fielded several questions relating to the spiraling federal debt. When one man asked whether it was time to audit the Federal Reserve, Romney said it was.
“The answer is yes to that. Very plain and simply, the answer is yes,” Romney said. “The Federal Reserve should be accountable; we should see what they’re doing.”
Romney also trumpeted a pledge never to increase taxes. “I will not raise taxes on the American people,” he said. “I will not raise taxes on middle-income Americans. We’re going to make sure that Americans have the money to pay their bills. We’re not going to raise taxes. That slows down growth. It kills jobs.”