WESTERVILLE, Ohio -- At the close of a political week focused in large part on the youth vote, Mitt Romney visited a small liberal arts college in central Ohio, and after taking the pulse of a small group of graduating seniors, delivered a political speech billed as a "guest lecture" that touched on politics and economics, but focused on rhetoric and history in an election year.
"Words are easily malleable but facts, they’re stubborn. And so I suggest that in the campaign ahead and in the campaigns of various officers running for various positions ahead, that you consider not just the brilliance of their words, but also the facts of their record and what they’ve done and that will be the best predictor I believe of what they’ll do going forward," Romney told an audience at Otterbein University.
This veiled reference was one of several allusions to President Barack Obama in Romney's remarks, which focused primarily on the former Massachusetts governor's own background and not the president's record -- unusual for Romney on the stump.
Romney's advisers said on Tuesday that the candidate would begin re-introducing himself to the American public this week, and his first public appearance since accepting the mantle of "presumptive nominee" on Tuesday night in New Hampshire did exactly that. The former private equity firm CEO spent far more time than usual in his remarks Friday touching on highlights of his business career - including investments in Staples and Steel Dynamics - and even joking about passing on becoming a founding investor in JetBlue.
But in delivering his re-introduction message, Romney passed on the opportunity to comment on the day's major news stories: disappointing GDP growth (Romney at one point referred to the recovery as "anemic" and the worst such recovery since the Hoover administration, but did not address the day's report directly), and the House of Representatives passing a bill to keep student loan interest rates down. The latter was a bill that both Romney and Obama supported, and which was on the minds of students here Friday.
"I'll probably have around $50,000 to $60,000 in student debt," sophomore nursing major Jessica Hindman, who said she was planning to support Romney, told NBC News. "I actually have a lot of fears that I’m going to be paying off college for a long time way past when I’ve graduated."
"If the rate doubles for student loans, I might have to switch colleges," freshman accounting major Jacob Hobbs said.
Before his speech, Romney talked with a small group of graduating seniors over cheeseburgers in a roundtable discussion.
"It’s been a tough, ah, a tough few years for people coming out of college. And this year does not look at any better than the prior years. And that’s gotta change," Romney said. "Because folks who cant find work in the first few years coming out of college find that over a long period of time, that really affects their long-term earning potential. So we want to get you to work and your colleagues to work."
Perhaps Romney's best nod to his college audience of mostly economics and political science majors, wasn't policy-related at all, but rather his fluency with the gourmet dining preferences of many college students, who survive on sandwiches and pizza. He described Champaign, Ill.-based Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches chain founder Jimmy John Liautaud:
We've always encouraged young people: Take, take a shot, go for it. Take a risk. Get the education. Borrow money if you have to from your parents. Start a business. I was with a guy named Jimmy John -- (laughter) -- You know Jimmy John? Yeah. I met Jimmy John. Jimmy John he... grad-- I hope I get this story entirely right, I think I will. He graduated from from high school and he didn't want to go to college. And he said to his dad, can I borrow some money, I want to start a business. His dad said you know what? You- I just don't think you've got the discipline to start a business and make it work. And he said, I'll loan you the money but if you can't pay it back, with interest, by the end of the year I want you to go into the military, and sign up. And he said ok, I'll do that."
"And I think he, I think he said he borrowed $20,000 dollars from his dad. Was going to start a restaurant. Then he found out how expensive it is to buy all the restaurant equipment and twenty thousand dollars wouldn't cut it. The only thing that would work for $20,000 was a sandwich shop, so he started making sandwiches. And as you chucklingly, chucklingly indicated a moment ago you know that his sandwiches are doing pretty well. He's got shops all over the country and thousands of people that work with him."
"This is a, this is kind of an American experience. You see it time and again. The other night I was with another restaurant guy, Papa John (laughter). Papa John. I think he said it was in 1986, he opened his first pizza restaurant and today employs thousands of people. We welcome that. We celebrate that in this country. Its one of the reasons we are the nation we are."