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MRomney rips military cuts

DERRY, New Hampshire, Jan 7, (AFP): Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday ripped President Barack Obama’s plans for a leaner military in a last push for support before a high-stakes debate with his rivals.

“I want a military that’s superior to anyone else in the world by a wide margin,” the former Massachusetts governor and millionaire venture capitalist told a crowd of hundreds in a private high school gymnasium in Derry.

“A military that’s extraordinarily strong, superior to others keeps others from doing dangerous things that would threaten us,” he said hours before a 9 pm (0200 GMT) face-off with other contenders for the party’s nomination.

Romney was reacting to Obama’s plans, announced at the Pentagon Thursday, to refit the US military to face down possible challenges from Iran or China with air and naval power, while virtually ruling out any future counter-insurgency campaigns such as those conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Republican also warned his supporters against complacency fed by his wide lead in public opinion polls ahead of New Hampshire’s nominating primary on Tuesday, his shot at notching a second win after the Iowa caucus last week.

“Don’t get too confident with those poll numbers, I’ve watched polls come and go, things change very quickly, it’s very fluid. I need to make sure you guys get your friends to vote and you vote as well,” he said.

A new daily tracking poll by Suffolk University found Romney in the lead with 39 percent support — down from 43 percent three days ago — Representative Ron Paul at 17 percent, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich at 10 percent.

Christian conservative Rick Santorum was at nine percent, seemingly stalled after battling Romney to a near draw in Iowa, while former US China envoy Jon Huntsman was also at nine percent.

Santorum, who has questioned Romney’s conservative credentials, warned Saturday that if the frontrunner got the nomination and beat Obama, “even if we win, we lose” because he won’t bring “real change” to Washington.

Texas Governor Rick Perry trailed at one percent, and 15 percent of the likely voters in the Republican primary surveyed were still undecided, leaving the race still fluid and making turnout critical.

Nancy Francis, who is not registered as a Democrat or Republican, said she came to see Romney here but leans towards Huntsman because “he’s not a wingnut” — a pejorative term for someone far to the right.

“Some of those others scare me,” said Francis, 48, who works at a feed lot in Derry.

Dick Burns a disabled Vietnam War veteran from Derry holding a “Vets for Romney” sign, said he would definitely vote for the former governor.

“He has the leadership abilities to turn this economy around,” said Burns, 63.

Obama’s drive for a second term in the November 6 elections is weighed down by the sour US economy and unemployment that, by historical standards, is high — though it slipped in December to 8.5 percent, the lowest since February 2009, the month after he took office.

In his weekly address on Saturday, the embattled Democratic president promised to do “whatever it takes” to maintain growth in the US economy as he announced a summit with business leaders dedicated to job creation at home.

“That’s my New Year’s resolution to all of you,” he said.

The debate — the first since Romney edged Santorum by just eight votes out of the 120,000 cast in Iowa’s caucus — will give the candidates a prime-time shot at denting Romney before the primary vote on Tuesday.

“It’s a joke for him to call himself a conservative,” Gingrich said Friday.

The debates are a rare chance to court a national audience and voters statewide ahead of the primary, which could send another candidate packing.

That could reset the field: Romney’s vast campaign war chest and high-profile endorsements have fed his image as the candidate to beat, but he faces stubborn doubts about his conservative credentials and has never been able to push his support from Republicans above 30 percent.

If core conservatives rally around Santorum — or another candidate — Romney could be in for a battle, though none of his current rivals can yet match his fundraising or extensive organization across key states.

Paul, a small-government champion who fiercely opposes overseas military intervention, mocked establishment Republicans for calling him “dangerous.”

“In a way, we are dangerous — to their empire.... They are in danger of being routed from the system,” he said.

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