LONDONDERRY, N.H. - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney today criticized a proposal by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to rein in the judiciary. But Romney generally toned down his criticism of Gingrich, after the two traded barbs last week.
Speaking to more than 100 people crammed tightly into the Coach Stop Restaurant, Romney never mentioned Gingrich by name. But he did criticize Gingrich’s position that he would force “activist judges” to justify their rulings before Congress and would abolish courts based on their decisions.
Romney, asked by a voter how he would curtail “extreme rulings,” said he would appoint members of the Supreme Court who would overturn extreme rulings. Romney said he would not allow Congress to subpoena judges to explain their rulings or to remove judges. “Then we make a super branch known as Congress,” Romney said. “We have a balance of power constitutionally, and I don’t want one branch, Congress, or even the president, to assume power above the other branches.”
Romney added that if a Democratic president or Congress were elected, they could do the same thing. “Every few years, you’d have elected Congress people changing the rulings of the Supreme Court.”
As Romney, Gingrich, and Texas Representative Ron Paul battle for the top spot in Iowa – which holds the nation’s first caucuses one week from today, Romney declined to predict how the caucuses will turn out.
Romney told reporters that he will not set expectations. “I want to do well in all the states,” he said. “A couple of weeks ago I was a distant third in Iowa, you just don’t know what’s going to happen in this process.”
Romney made clear that he is ready for an extended campaign. “I have to get 1,150 delegates,” Romney said. “I’d like to start with a good boost in early states. I’m planning to go all the way and get the delegates we need.”
Romney did two campaign events in New Hampshire today, before traveling to Iowa this afternoon. He said he will return to New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary on Jan. 10, next weekend.
Romney’s criticism of Gingrich appeared more muted than it was last week. But he could not resist one zinger. Asked by a reporter in Portsmouth, N.H., about Gingrich’s failure to get on the Virginia ballot, Romney said, “I think he compared that to Pearl Harbor. I think it’s more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory. You’ve got to get it organized.” Of all the candidates, only Romney and Paul met Virginia’s requirements.
The Gingrich campaign compared the failure to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor – arguing that it was a setback, but Gingrich would emerge victorious. Romney referred to an episode of the 1950s TV show “I Love Lucy” when Lucy tries – with much difficulty – to hold down a job at a candy factory.
When a voter asked Romney to criticize Gingrich’s statements that he would allow illegal immigrants who are in the country for 25 years or more to remain, Romney took a pass, instead presenting his own views of illegal immigration -- that illegal immigrants must return home and get in the back of the line of those who want to immigrate legally.
Asked about a report in the Wall Street Journal that Gingrich’s former consulting company in 2006 supported the goals of Romney’s Massachusetts health care overhaul – which Gingrich is now critical of – Romney said he knows Gingrich was “supportive generally” of his Massachusetts plan. “He’s changed his view in the election year,” Romney said.
(Later on, Romney took a swipe at his home state. After asking New Hampshire voters to go to the polls, he said, “In Massachusetts, we might say go early and often.” He quickly added, “Just kidding.”)
Romney generally enjoyed an enthusiastic reception from voters. He was accompanied at both events by US Senator Kelly Ayotte. He also received the endorsement of state Senator Sharon Carson. Some voters said they were surprised at the size of the crowd at the 8:30 a.m. event.
“I thought it would be a nice cozy atmosphere,” laughed Manchester business owner and Romney supporter Diane Touzin. “It is very cozy.”
One testy moment came when a voter asked Romney about past statements that the Detroit auto companies should have been allowed to go bankrupt.
“ ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt,’ ” the man said, repeating Romney’s earlier words. “That was your test and you failed.” The man said General Motors and Chrysler borrowed money from government, paid it back, and are thriving.
Romney responded, “I’m sorry, they did go bankrupt,” noting that the auto companies went through bankruptcy after accepting help from the government. Romney said under his plan, the companies would have gone straight into bankruptcy – to reorganize, not to shut down - before government had to spend money bailing them out.
Then in Portsmouth, a small business owner confronted Romney and asked him to pledge to abolish the death penalty. Romney responded that he supports the death penalty, and wishes Massachusetts had it. “My judgment is if people fear their life will be taken for doing certain heinous things, they’re not going to do it,” he said.
Also in Portsmouth, where Romney spoke to about 100 people standing in the cold outside Geno’s Chowder and Sandwich Shop, a man interrupted his speech to scream something about defeating the “Vichy empire.” Romney took it in stride. “I’m not sure what the Vichy empire is, but I sure like the Portsmouth harbor.”
Shira Schoenberg can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.