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Politics

Romney brings pledge of 'big change' to Pasco

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:35 PM
LAND O' LAKES -

Before a sea of people covering most of the Land O' Lakes High School football field and filling the stadium's stands, Mitt Romney promised "big change" tonight.

He also taught the crowd his latest campaign slogan – but the slogan, he told supporters, only would last for one day.

"You know, at the Obama rallies they chant 'Four more years,'" he said. "I think our chant ought to be 10 more days."

When the crowd happily took up the chant, he joked, "We're gonna have to change that chant tomorrow."

Authorities estimated the crowd that showed up to see Romney at more than 15,000, following a day in which he also drew big gatherings in Pensacola – about 10,000 – and in Kissimmee.

The crowd size delayed Romney's appearance in Land O' Lakes, as the campaign held back the GOP candidate while the large number of people worked their way through metal detectors into the high school football stadium.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who had accompanied Romney at the stops earlier today, left the tour before the Land O' Lakes stop to return to Miami where his daughter, Amanda, 12, the eldest of his four children, was injured in a car wreck Saturday.

According to a statement from Rubio's office, Amanda Rubio was airlifted to Miami Children's hospital where she was in stable condition tonight.

Rubio was notified of the accident after coming off stage while campaigning with Romney in Kissimmee, the statement said.

He split off from the Romney motorcade on Interstate 4 between Kissimmee and Tampa, said a Romney campaign spokesman.

Romney, who has been striking a moderate tone and seeking to appeal to women and independent voters as the campaign nears its close, promised bipartisanship.

"For us to get America on the right track, it's going to take us reaching across the aisle," he said. "The president said he was going to do that, but … it's been the most partisan presidency I can remember."

But he also spent much of the speech blasting Obama.

"The president likes to say how tough things were that he inherited, how he inherited a tough economy," Romney said. "It was a tough economy.

"But he doesn't mention the fact that he also inherited the greatest country in the history of the Earth," with "the most productive work force" and the most innovative and biggest economy.

"The things he did make it harder for the economy to kick into gear. … And that's why we're going to have in November not just a little change but a big change."

Romney closed on an inspirational tone, telling anecdotes about a World War II veteran, a Boy Scout troop that sent an American flag on the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle flight, and parents making sacrifices for their children.

"It's the American way to live for something bigger than ourselves," he said. "We love our families, love our country, love our faith – with clear eyes, full hearts, we can't lose."

The Romney event went forward despite disagreement about the use of school facilities for a political purpose and involvement of school administrators and students.

The Mitchell High School marching band and the Land O' Lakes High cheerleaders participated in today's, and critics say school principals sent emails urging school employees to attend and seeking student volunteers to help stage the events.

Land O' Lakes High's web site briefly included a link to the Romney campaign web site for people to get tickets.

"They have expressly endorsed Mitt Romney," said Kenny Blankenship, Land O' Lakes High social studies teacher and vice president of the Pasco teacher's union.

Blankenship, other teachers' union members and former Democratic candidate for Florida governor, Alex Sink, held a news conference at the high school before the event.

Blankenship said parents of cheerleaders had told him the students initially were told participating in the event was required, but a later email stated it was voluntary.

He said school district policy bans performances by student groups such as bands and cheerleaders at political events.

District school Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, a Republican who made the decision to allow the rally, has defended it as no different from renting school facilities to church or civic organizations, which is routine, and as a chance for Pasco residents to see Romney.

Asked whether there is a policy against students representing their schools performing at political events, she said students "are allowed to volunteer" for such events.

Fiorentino said students at some high schools were given information about how they could volunteer at the Romney rally, but she said no students were required to participate.

Sink said the district "should have a written policy about the use of public facilities by candidates and whatever rules they establish should be consistently applied." Sink was denied permission to tape a campaign commercial at the high school during her 2010 campaign.

But she played down the issue of use of the school property, saying it was "a minimal thing compared to the big issue of the day," the Obama-Romney contest.

"Here we are on the grounds of a public school, and we have seen so many policies coming out of the Romney-Ryan budget that do not support public schools," she said.

Campaigning in Tampa

Who: Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate

Where: Land O' Lakes High School

Attendance:15,000-plus

Message: "Big change."

History: Third trip to the Tampa area since the Republican National Convention.

Campaign site: www.mittromney.com


wmarch@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7761

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