DETROIT -- Wrapping up a much-touted economic speech at a football field here on Friday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney fumbled the message ball.
Answering a question about a possible fall matchup with President Obama, Romney said he has the best chance of defeating the incumbent and went on to say he will be a friend of Michigan, a state defined by its relationship cars. He then mentioned how many he has himself.
“I love this country. I actually love this state. It just feels good, being back in Michigan,” Romney said. “I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a Dodge truck, so I used to have all three (big automakers) covered.”
The reference to the sheer number of cars he has, and his wife’s two high-end cars, is likely unhelpful to a candidate who is trying to shake an image as a wealthy elitist out of touch with the economic worries of everyday Americans.
The campaign quickly issued a clarification saying that Ann Romney’s cars are 2007 and 2010 Cadillac SRX models, and that one of them is at the family’s house in La Jolla, Calif., while the other is at their residence in Belmont, Mass. Romney has said before that the cars are small crossovers.
Romney was born and raised in Michigan and his father, George Romney, was governor of the state as well as a onetime president of American Motors.
The speech itself drew largely on the tax plan Romney laid out earlier in the week, which calls for lowering marginal individual tax rates by 20 percent across-the-board and reducing the corporate tax rate to 25%. He said he also would make the research and development tax credit permanent, eliminate the capital gains tax cut for people with annual incomes below $200,000, and end the “job-killing” repatriation tax, “so American companies who do business overseas will bring their profits here and invest at home.” Other elements of Romney’s plan include repeal of the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax.
On the spending side of the federal budget, Romney called for changes in the nation's big entitlement programs to dig the country out of debt. Starting in 2022, new retirees would participate in a revamped Medicare program. The Medicare eligibility age would be increased by one month each year, and eligibility ages for both Meidcare and Social Security woul be indexed to longevity so that they increase only as fast as life expectancy.
Romney said he would also “slowly raise the retirement age for Social Securityh eligibilty and “slow the growth in benefits for higher-income retirees.”
He also called for partially privatizing Medicare. Beneficiaries would choose among traditional Medicare and the private sector, which would have to compete to offer insurance coverage “at the lowest possible price,” he said.
“With these commonsense changes, we will have fixed our balance sheet,” Romney said.
Romney's campaign event was held at Ford Field, which has a capacity of 65,000. But only about 1,200 people were on hand, about 2 percent of stadium’s capacity, and the backdrop for Romney’s speech was largely empty space. The crowd was made up mostly of professionals in business suits, a stark contrast to the regular inhabitants – fans of the hometown Detroit Lions. Romney spoke at the 30-yard line.
A spokesman for the Detroit Economic Club, which hosted the event, said that the field was chosen because the original venue, a local Westin hotel, could not house the growing number of attendees who had bought tickets. The football theme reverberated at a campaign stop later in the day. Romney popped into a restaurant in Mount Clemens called The Mitt, where he joked about the establishment’s name and told the crowd that his parents had named him after a cousin who played football for the Chicago Bears in the 1920s. “They thought by naming me Mitt Romney, I’d get extraordinary athletic ability. Yeah, your laugh is exactly right -- that did not happen.”