HOPKINTON, N.H. -- On a day when a new poll of voters in the Granite state showed him with an 18 percentage point lead over his nearest competitor, Mitt Romney wasn't resting on his laurels.
On the eve of another televised debate, the GOP presidential front-runner had a packed day of flesh-pressing and voter-wooing, punctuated by sometimes combative moments. He defended Wall Street financiers against what he said was scapegoating, scolded a reporter for trying to ask him a question, and sparred with students over gay rights.
At a town hall here, students from Saint Michael's College pressed him on gay marriage and legislation for AIDS medication. On gay marriage, he said repeatedly that the ideal setting for raising children was in a household with one man and one woman. When pressed for his stance on civil unions, he said he supports "partnership agreements" that give same-sex couples some rights such as hospital visitations. When a young boy asked him about abortion, Romney, at first taken aback by his interlocutor's age, said quickly that he wants the Supreme Court to repeal Roe v. Wade and give states the chance to decide whether or not they would allow abortion.
One questioner asked him about Herman Cain, who placed second to him in a poll released on Monday. Romney called Cain a "terrific" guy, saying that their shared experiences in the private sector have rocketed them to the top of the polls.
Making his first public appearance since a weekend gathering of social conservatives where a prominent supporter of his GOP presidential rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, called Romney's Mormon faith "a cult," Romney seemed intent on putting the controversy behind him.
He took no questions from reporters at any of his campaign stops, and snapped at one who repeatedly asked him if Attorney General Eric Holder should be fired over a gun sting gone bad. In the midst of signing autographs in Hooksett, Romney jerked around and confronted the journalist face to face. "I don't take press conference questions at events like these because it doesn't give you or me a chance to have a full discussion of the topic," he said. Romney, who told the reporter he welcomes press conferences where reporters can ask him questions, held his last one nearly two weeks ago, on Sept. 28.
Romney's day began on a lighter note at a VFW Hall in Milford, with his wife Ann, along with former Sen. Judd Gregg and his wife Kathy, who announced their support for Romney. Ann Romney told the friendly crowd she was thrilled to introduce a different side of him, and he jokingly turned around so that his rear faced the cameras.
Most of the questions from the older crowd focused on health care, but Romney hit on the Occupy Wall Street movement in his very first answer. The founder of the investment and consulting firm Bain Capital defended his former colleagues in the industry.
"We have a very capable financial services sector that makes loans and allows business to start and thrive," he said. "Are there bad actors on Wall Street? Absolutely. And are there bad actors on Main Street? Absolutely. All the streets are connected -- Wall Street's connected to Main Street. And so finding a scapegoat, finding someone to blame, in my opinion isn't the right way to go."
He went on to blame the government for insisting "that financial institutions make loans to people who couldn't pay it back."
When a mother in the audience asked him the title of his favorite children's book, Romney's wife piped up from her seat: "Make Way For Ducklings." But Romney instead quoted from the A.A. Milne poem "Disobedience" about a little boy who thinks he has lost his mother.
At the next stop, a meet-and-greet at a small, family-run country store in Hooksett, the Romneys found a picture of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, Mitt's father, from when he was campaigning for president in 1968. "There he is. Isn't that a great shot?" the younger Romney remarked.
In Hopkinton at day's end, a man in the crowd gave Romney his Boston Red Sox baseball cap to take with him to the Oval Office. When Romney said he had been watching more Patriots games recently, the Sox fan threw in a jab at his baseball team that could provide Romney with a line in his next speech:
"A perfect example that you can't solve problems by throwing money at them."