Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was welcomed to the East Valley with chants of "U-S-A" as he made a stop on the campaign trail at the Mesa Amphitheater Monday night.
"Washington has a disease," Romney said. "People go to Washington and they believe it's for the government. I believe America is of, for and by the people, not the government."
The stop is an important one for Romney, as the Arizona primary nears and national support for Romney seems to wane. According to a poll released Monday by the Pew Research Institute, Romney trails Rick Santorum by 2 percentage points.
"I want the one who has the experience, the knowledge, the track record and the ethics," said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. "The only one who fits that description is Mitt Romney."
During his speech, Romney played up his business experience and insisted he has a staunch conservative record.
"The other four guys have spent their lives only in politics," he said, emphasizing his business principles and experience leading outside of government.
Romney said that he doesn't plan to make a career out of his time in politics, even if he wins the presidency.
"I'm going to go to Washington and get the country turned around. And then I'm going to go home," he promised the cheering crowd.
That's an ideal quality in a candidate, said Steve Steele, a life-long Mesa resident who waited for three hours with his wife to see Romney, the first time either had attended a political rally.
"He's a deep thinker, not a career politician," he said.
During Romney's time as governor, he said he created a balanced budget, a "rainy day" fund, brought Massachusetts public schools to number one in the country and led the fight to stop same sex marriage in his home state.
"We enforced immigration laws to get those illegals out of our state," Romney said.
If elected, he plans to save Social Security, repeal "Obamacare" and stop America from becoming a "European-style welfare state," he said. He also plans to build new aircraft and increase the number of troops in the military.
Romney stated that he believes his family, faith and business experience make him the optimal candidate.
"My father believed in America; he became governor in a state that he sold aluminum paint," Romney said, explaining that his family came from humble beginnings and mirrors the American dream.
Romney focused much of his attention on negative remarks about both Obama and his Republican competitors.
"This election is about more than replacing Obama," said Romney, who said Obama went back on his campaign promises to keep the unemployment rate below 8 percent and create a balanced budget.
"Let's not nominate a guy who hasn't run anything and isn't a leader," Romney said.
While some seem skeptical that Romney has the support of Republican voters, the crowd at the Mesa rally cheered emphatically at Romney's every pause.
"This might be the time for Romney," said Susan Kastanis, a Gilbert resident who attended the rally, saying that four years ago voters held Romney's Mormon faith against him.
"People don't understand it," she said of the LDS religion, which she also follows. "But this time they seem more accepting, but let's see if that's accepting enough."
A few thousand supporters attended the event, some waiting hours to get in the amphitheater. Outside, supporters of Ron Paul waved signs and chanted.
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