SUN LAKES, Ariz. — Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney continued to draw a sharp contrast with his top foe for the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in a town-hall-style gathering on Wednesday at this sprawling retirement community near Phoenix.
It seemed no accident that Romney choose a packed audience of mostly seniors to rap Perry for his views on Social Security, just as he did in two televised debates earlier this month. Asked by an audience member what he would do to protect Social Security’s future, Romney reminded the audience that Perry described the program in his book, “ Fed Up!, ” as an unconstitutional “Ponzi scheme.”
“It needs to be a federal entitlement,” Romney said. “I will save Social Security financially as a federal program.”
Despite Romney’s continued attacks, his stance on the issue drew only tepid applause from the audience. The issue is not a top priority for all seniors, several of whom said in interviews after the event that they are not at all worried that Social Security will not be there for them. In a state that has become the main stage for the national conversation over illegal immigration, residents said that issue and the overall state of the economy are of far greater urgency as they decide whom to support for president.
“None of them are going to take a chance on offending this age group,” said Bob Landino, 78, who lives in Sun Lakes and is retired from the restaurant industry. “They’re going to change it for 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-year-olds, but not if you’re already at the age of retirement. That ain’t gonna happen.”
Landino said he’s listening more for a candidate who demonstrates an ability to lead on a broad swath of topics — especially the economy. He said Romney impressed him because of his business experience and because he hasn’t spend his entire career in politics.
Before a crowd of more than 600 — his largest town hall in recent months, according to his campaign — Romney also tapped into voter unease about the state of the economy, touting his decades of business experience and contrasting it sharply with President Obama’s lack thereof. “We have a nice guy who is president, but he doesn’t have a clue what to do about the economy, and I do,” Romney said as the audience cheered.