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Romney lays out economic vision - in mostly empty stadium

Scott Olson / Getty Images

DETROIT, MI - FEBRUARY 24: Members of the Detroit Economic club gather to hear a speech by Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)


DETROIT -- Days after debuting a souped-up economic plan calling for across-the-board tax cuts, Mitt Romney expanded on his vision here today in a speech at a largely empty football stadium.

Before some 1,200 members and guests of the Detroit Economic Club seated between the end zone and 30-yard line at Detroit's Ford Field, Romney described plans to eliminate subsidies to Amtrak and Planned Parenthood, as well as send programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and housing subsidies back to the states.

Romney also said his plans for reforming Medicare -- including offering supports for private options instead of the traditional single-payer system -- would begin in 2022, and that eligibility requirements would rise one month each year, and be indexed to longevity.

Romney's speech -- a mix of a few new details on the plan he rolled out Wednesday, stump speech staples, and anecdotes reflecting his love of his home state -- was originally intended to be given in a hotel ballroom. But when tickets sold out in less than an hour, a larger venue was needed.

The cavernous, 65,000 seat Ford Field was selected by the Economic Club, but couldn't possibly be filled. The result: tens of thousands of empty seats and a space so large it swallowed applause altogether.

The candidate joked about the venue at the beginning of his remarks.

"I guess we had a hard time finding a large enough place to meet and this ... certainly is," he said.

Romney also undercut his economic message by fumbling an attempt to appeal to Michiganders with a bit of personal detail about his love of cars. He revealed that his wife owns a "couple" of pricey Cadillacs SRX's -- a comment that could give his rivals and Democrats ammunition to portray the multi-millionaire Romney as being out of touch.

"It just feels good, being back in Michigan. You know the trees are the right height, the streets are just right. I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a Dodge truck, so I used to have all three covered," he said.

*** UPDATE *** Regarding the optics of Romney giving a speech to a largely empty stadium, a Romney official gave this response to NBC's Peter Alexander:

"Beth Chappell -CEO of Detroit Economic Club just now spoke with ABC and told them that the campaign had nothing to do with venue choice...they typically use the atrium at Ford Field as a venue for their events, but due to the size of the crowd there were security concerns with the atrium so they moved it to the field. Once they moved the campaign worked on logistics but the campaign had nothing to do with this."

The president of the Detroit Economic Club also responded:

"I just heard that there is some confusion in the media regarding the selection of today's venue. That is very disappointing after such a terrific meeting. As I said in my remarks today, we sold out the previous venue in 90 minutes and were delighted that Ford Field was available and could accommodate the DEC. Further, we thought it a wonderful Detroit landmark to host this nationally broadcast meeting."
"The original plan was to host the Romney meeting in the atrium, which is where we host DEC meetings when at Ford Field.  During our walk through with the security team there were further issues raised due to the size of the crowd so we moved the event to the field. Had we followed our normal plan in the atrium, the football field would not have been visible - and the room would have been packed."

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