Romney, Gingrich exhort Lancaster GOPTim Stuhldreher
Mitt Romney is the presumptive party nominee for president, but Newt Gingrich received the more enthusiastic welcome Tuesday evening at the Republican Committee of Lancaster County's Spring Event.
Neither man referred to the other, both instead directing barrages of criticism at Democratic President Barack Obama.
"This president has prolonged the recovery, made it more difficult for us to come out of recession," Romney said.
"Obama is the greatest threat to the continuation of American civilization in our lifetime," Gingrich said.
Romney spoke before the food was served to the 1,000-strong crowd at the Lancaster County Convention Center; Gingrich spoke afterward. While both received standing ovations, cheering for Gingrich was longer and louder.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, asserted that Obama "doesn't understand what is unique and exceptional about America" and accused the president of launching a nonstop series of attacks" on personal, religious and economic freedom.
"His attacks on economic freedom have not only hurt the capacity of the American economy to create jobs, they've made many wonder whether America can keep up with our obligations and the promises that should be delivered to our children in the future," he said.
Romney criticized Obama's proposals to let the Bush tax cuts for top earners expire, saying it would burden entrepreneurs and "kill jobs." He called the proposed Buffett Rule, designed to prevent high earners from paying taxes at lower rates than average earners, a gimmick.
He promised to repeal Obama's signature health care reform law, cap federal spending and loosen restrictions on domestic energy exploration and production.
Gingrich, a Harrisburg native, reminisced about watching local television station WGAL in its early black-and-white heyday, using the story to contrast those days and now.
"The world has changed dramatically, but the U.S. government hasn't," he said.
The former Speaker of the House criticized Obama's "anti-jobs, socialist policies," repeating his oft-used line that Obama is "the most effective food-stamp president in history."
He praised the domestic natural gas industry, arguing that gasoline would be $1.13 a gallon if it dropped in price as much as natural gas has. Under a Gingrich administration's energy policy, America could reduce unemployment, achieve energy independence and use the royalties from oil and gas leasing to pay down the national debt, he said.
"That is what sound conservative strategic planning should do," he said.
Missing from Spring Event was scheduled speaker and former U.S. senator for Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, who canceled his appearance Monday without explanation.
Santorum last week suspended his campaign at a press conference in Gettysburg. While he is expected to support Romney eventually, it appears he's not ready yet, said veteran political analyst and Franklin & Marshall College professor Terry Madonna.
"In time, I think Santorum will come around," he said.
Meanwhile, Romney knows he has work to do to win over social conservatives like those in Lancaster County, Madonna said.
"He needs to make sure he closes the gap with the kind of voters who are here," he said, indicating the audience in the convention center hall.
Besides the national candidates, a number of state candidates made appeals for the audience's support in the primary, which takes place April 24.