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Romney holds off on closer speech

From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Romney switched up his stump speech today and even kept notes with him to offer his closing remarks to New Hampshire voters, but his efforts were overshadowed by the death of Benazir Bhutto.

Reporters buzzed after he made a statement early this morning about Bhutto that he didn't offer his condolences, which he made certain to do later -- both in his remarks before supporters at the American Credit Union Museum and in a second session with reporters.

He refused to discuss what he would do in a hypothetical situation, but he summed up his message that the key is "to develop that kind of process and develop comprehensive strategies to help support moderate voices within the world of Islam so that we don't have to be responding to crises."

Romney also said he didn't have the classified information available to offer much depth of insight into the situation, but he pointed out that he has been critical of Musharraf in the past for his decision to impose martial law in Pakistan.

He was also asked several questions about how his own experiences and lack of foreign policy credentials would affect his own decision-making processes and explained that ultimately the need for leadership skills supersede the need for foreign policy expertise.

"In any crisis, you're not going to turn to somebody who says, 'Well, I know all about Pakistan' and say to them, 'Well, why don't you take care of it?'" Romney said. "If we did that, we'd just hire someone from the state department to run the country."

And he underscored that note at the close of the session with: "The president is not an expert. The president is a leader who guides America in making the important decisions which must be made to keep us safe."

Specifically, he was asked if candidates like Giuliani and McCain would be better equipped to handle foreign crises because they have had more experience in the arena and can rule "from their gut." But Romney balked at the suggestion. "Well, anybody who thinks they could rule from the gut," he said, "and I doubt Sen. McCain would say that, so I'm not gonna assume he would say that, that he could just rule from the gut."

The underlying theme of Romney's reworked message when actually on the stump was, "No one votes for the past," suggesting that he is the GOP candidate of the future. He was joined by his wife, Ann, who made her pitch at the end rather than the beginning for him and his character. Romney also spoke in more detail about his father and explained that he started out poor and worked his way up through the ranks to become a successful businessman and later, a three-term governor.

Romney will return to the state after the Iowa caucuses on the night of the third for three days of rallying his supporters before the Granite State's primary on the 8th.