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Romney avoids reporters, but not tough questions

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney focused on the economy during his New Hampshire campaign swing. NBC's Garrett Haake reports.

HOPKINTON, NH — On a day that began with jokes before a friendly audience about dodging tough questions, Mitt Romney was forced to answer a host of them, not from reporters, but from students and children at this evening's town hall.

Romney faced a series of questions about whether he would continue to fund Bush-era anti-AIDS programs (he would consider it, but not commit), and why he was against same-sex marriage (the optimal way to raise a child, he said, was in a family with one male and one female parent).

The questions about same sex marriage, each coming from a college-aged student, seemed especially to frustrate Romney, who told the third questioner, who began by mentioning her two dads, that he'd already given his view on that issue.

Romney held firm that while he opposed same-sex marriage, he would support "partnership agreements" to allow for hospital visitations and "similar things of that nature." 

Perhaps looking for relief, at one point, Romney called on a child who had his hand up to ask a question. The boy -- no older than ten -- promptly asked Romney to explain his views on abortion.

"That's a question I did not expect from you," Romney said, clearly taken aback, before explaining that he was "firmly pro-life."

It was earlier in the day when the tough questions began for Romney.

At a mid-afternoon stop to meet supporters at a general store, Romney scolded a reporter who repeatedly shouted questions at him about the controversy surrounding Attorney General Eric Holder, while Romney was shaking hands and signing autographs. Romney, who last held a press conference or availability on September 28, eventually turned around and asked who had been asking the question.

"I do press avails and then I answer questions. They're important questions -- in the length that I want to do," Romney said. "But what I don't do in a group like this is stop and rattle off questions to people just as we walk along because that way you don't get the chance to hear the full answer that I'd like to give. So those are important questions and I'd be happy to address them at a press avail or at the town meeting, but at events like this I don't take press conference questions because it doesn't give you or me a chance to have a full discussion of the topic when it's, particularly, an important one."

The day began on considerably friendlier territory for Romney, with another town hall, at the VFW in Milford, NH. There, after joking about answering or dodging tough questions as best he could, he was able to focus his attack on President Obama, debuting a new line, in which he accused the president of creating a "Where's Waldo economy" in which finding a good paying job was like trying to find the character in the famous puzzle books.

Accompanied in Milford by his wife Ann, and former NH Senator and Governor Judd Gregg, Romney was in an ebullient mood. When Ann said she would show the world another side of Mitt, he turned his back to the cameras and audience, inducing groans and laughter from the room. He defended his Massachusetts health care reform bill -- alluding to a new ad by Texas Governor Rick Perry, which he later said he had not yet seen -- and said his critics would rely on "obfuscation and bewilderment" to confuse voters about what he believed, and what statements he had made in the past.

In both Milford and Hopkinton, Romney addressed the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement. At first, he seemed solidly against the movement, saying in Milford:

"One of the things in my view that has made America's economy the most powerful in the world is that we have a very capable financial service sector that makes loans and allows biz to start and thrive. Are there bad actors on Wall Street? Absolutely. Are there bad actors on main street? Absolutely. And they have to be found and picked out and plucked out, but to say that some how that we should point and attack other Americans or other regions of America or industries in America I think would be a mistake. I think the idea of dividing our nation in a time of crisis is the wrong way to go. All the streets are connected. Wall Streets connected to Main Street. So finding a scapegoat, finding someone to blame is the wrong way to go."

In Hopkinton he seemed to soften that view when asked about the growing wealth disparities in the United States, co-opting some of the language of the protesters to say that while the fate of the top one percent of the US doesn't keep him up at night, "I worry about the 99% in America" and "I know how these people feel."

Also in Hopkinton, Romney was asked for his opinion about the surging Herman Cain. Romney said his fellow former CEO deserved a good look, but that he would not contrast their business records.

"I'm not going to try to convince you that my private sector experience is better than his," Romney said, later adding, "Vote for either one of us and you'll be happy."

And in the final exchange of the night, Romney was presented with a Red Sox cap, by a voter who said the hat should sit in congress as a reminder for legislators about the perils of spending too much.

"It's perfect evidence you can't solve problems by throwing money at them," the man said, referring to the September collapse of the team with one of the highest payrolls in baseball.

Romney laughed at the suggestion as he accepted the hat, and told the man that for now at least, he would focus on the Patriots instead.