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Romney looks to regain footing with Warsaw speech

 

WARSAW -- Mitt Romney capped his foreign tour with a major speech here in Poland's capital, though the third leg of the presumptive GOP nominee's trip abroad was again beset by an incident that threatened to overshadow the purpose of his visit.

Romney sought to regain his political footing in the final major appearance on his three nation foreign trip, praising the recent economic success here in Poland and hailing several iconic figures in the nation's history who helped advance Poland out of communist control.

"I believe it is critical to stand by those who have stood by America," Romney told his audience in a university atrium, effectively summing up the message he hoped to convey to all three American allies he visited this week, before pivoting to Poland specifically. "Solidarity was a great movement that freed a nation. And it is with solidarity that America and Poland face the future."

In his fifteen minutes of remarks, Romney also heaped praise on the Polish economy, one of the strongest in Europe, as being emblematic of the kind of free market principles the GOP contender regularly espouses on the stump.

"Your nation has moved from a state monopoly over the economy, price controls, and severe trade restrictions to a culture of entrepreneurship, greater fiscal responsibility, and international trade," Romney said. "As a result, your economy has experienced positive growth in each of the last twenty years. In that time, you have doubled the size of your economy."

But it was an interaction before the speech between a Romney campaign aide and the press corps traveling with the candidate that risked throwing the campaign off-message. Tensions flared following a visit by Romney to Warsaw's Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, where the Republican candidate ignored questions shouted to him by the media. During the entirety of Romney's trip, he took only three questions from the press at a single brief availability in London.

As reporters shouted to be heard by Romney across an open plaza a press aide implored them to be respectful, then adding "kiss my ass," and telling one reporter to "shove it." The aide later apologized.

After the speech, Romney's top strategist Stuart Stevens called the trip a "great success, mostly," and defended the press availability of his candidate, which was limited to a handful of television interviews on top of the availability at 10 Downing Street on Thursday.

"I think he has answered a lot of questions," Stevens said, telling reporters he was pleased that Romney spoke from the heart about what he called "big issues."

"He's saying what he believes," Stevens said.

Polish attendees interviewed before the speech here in Warsaw -- several of whom expressed jaded views towards the current U.S. administration -- said they were interested to hear Romney's views on Russia and visa issues (Russia was mentioned once, visas not at all), but that they recognized the real audience for today's speech was thousands of miles away.

"It's just politics," said Joanne Wierbowska, an economics graduate student. "We know that 10 million Polish people live in the United States so it's obvious he should be here."

Romney played the sympathies of Polish-Americans in his remarks by repeatedly praising a favorite Polish son, revered by many in both countries: Pope John Paul II.

"John Paul the Second understood that a nation is not a flag or a plot of land. It is a people -- a community of values," Romney said. "And the highest value Poland honors - to the world's great fortune -- is man's innate desire to be free."

The speech marked Romney's final major stop of his whirlwind trip, in which a series of perceived missteps often overwhelmed the campaign's message: from calling preparations for the 2012 Olympic games "disconcerting" while in Great Britain, to pegging Israeli and Palestinian economic disparities, in part, to cultural differences.

Whether or not the trip would ultimately be considered a success, Stevens said, would be determined back in the United States, not on headlines generated abroad.

"There is no electoral college here," Stevens said. "You're not trying to win the electoral college in England, Israel and Poland."