Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images
Mitt Romney greets supporters after holding a veterans rally in Pensacola, Fla., on Saturday.
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Flanked by a pair of prominent Republican veterans and one sinister television villain, Mitt Romney on Saturday morning promised this heavily military community that he would keep the armed forces strong and stop planned reductions in military spending.
"So much is at stake, so much is at stake. How can you possibly imagine cutting back the scale and the capacity of America's military? I can't imagine it. Look around the world," Romney said. "The world is not a more safe place. How in the world can you justify reducing the military at a time like this? Only from hiding from reality."
Romney was joined on stage by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, himself an Army veteran, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who earned his aviator's wings here in Pensacola. McCain joked about blowing many a paycheck at "cultural institutions" like the Fish House bar and restaurant, where Saturday morning's rally took place, and where several hundred supporters packed into balconies to catch a glimpse of the action.
Also joining Romney was actor Jon Voight, whose turn as the villain Jonas Hodges on "24" prompted McCain to joke, "wasn't he a threat to America and the world?" and to thank God for Jack Bauer (the main protagonist), who he said killed Voight's character "three or four times."
In backing Romney, Voight called him a "man of faith, honor, love and truth," who could bring the country back after President Obama "decided to follow his father's footsteps and take us to socialism." Voight also offered his assessment that "Speaker Gingrich may fall short in many ways."
It was only one of two explicit mentions of Gingrich, with Romney and company focusing instead on attacking President Obama. When Romney did mention the former speaker, who recent polls show Romney has passed in the last few days, it was to repeat a mocking line he first delivered at Friday night's rally in Orlando.
"We've had about 18 debates so far. They're getting more and more fun as time goes on. This last one Speaker Gingrich said he didn't do so well because the audience was so loud. The one before he said he didn't do so well because the audience was too quiet," Romney said. "This is like Goldilocks, you know, gotta have it just right. When I debate the president I'm not going to worry about the audience, I gotta make sure that we take down Barack Obama and take back the White House."
But it was McCain, who carried this county by 11 points in 2008, who made the strongest case for Romney, aggressively defending Romney's private sector experience.
"My friends I know of no one who is more qualified in the private sector in the public sector and as governor he had to work with Democrats and he did effectively and led and achieved his goals. You know, I do not understand," McCain said. "I do not understand... why anyone would attack a person who is successful in business in the free enterprise system. That is a sign of desperation. A desperate candidate is a candidate who attacks someone who succeeds in the free enterprise system."
McCain closed with an appeal to voters to get out and vote early, and joked that if they didn't, he'd find out about it.
"If you haven't voted yet go out and get it done. And call your friends, call your friends. The Panhandle will probably have a big effect on how this election turns out. Don't let me hear on Wednesday morning that you forgot to vote," McCain said. "We have surveillance cameras."