MOUNT VERNON, Ohio -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called for arming dissidents in Syria but not sending in the U.S. military, during a town hall meeting here today on the second day of a campaign swing in Ohio.
Mr. Romney, who has sought to distinguish his foreign policy from that of President Obama, said the United States should take a more active role in the Middle East.
"In a place like Syria we should, through our partners in the region, work to identify dissidents within Syria that are reasonable and responsible people, try to coalesce and bring them to work together, providing funding and weapons to them so they can defend themselves and they can promote their agenda," Mr. Romney said.
"We should play an active role. It doesn't mean we send in troops or drop bombs, but it does mean actively participating in a place like Syria to make sure Assad goes and that a reasonable and responsible government follows," Mr. Romney said.
Enjoying a boost in the polls in swing-state Ohio, Mr. Romney spoke Tuesday night to a crowd estimated by the campaign at 12,000 to a crowd in suburban Akron. Today, he addressed people inside a factory of the Ariel Corp. near Mount Vernon that makes natural-gas compressors. The company's current payroll of 1,200 people is an all-time high, according to Kent Dubbe, vice president for human resources.
The compressors -- heavy-duty machines that speed natural gas through pipelines or into storage -- are integral to the boom in natural gas from hydraulic fracturing in eastern Ohio.
Mr. Romney vowed to double the number of permits and licenses on federal lands and in federal waters, saying that while production and drilling on private lands has increased in the last four years, oil and natural gas development have declined on federal property.
"We're going to get the federal lands and federal waters to produce more energy," Mr. Romney said.
He was introduced and warmly endorsed by Karen Buchwald Wright, the president and chief executive officer of the company that was founded in 1966 by her father, Jim Buchwald. Also introducing and answering questions along with Mr. Romney was Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey.
The Obama campaign fired back at Mr. Romney by citing record levels of domestic natural gas production under President Obama, and that the natural gas production was 14 percent higher in the first quarter of 2012 than in the same period of 2009.
Also in his speech, Mr. Romney retold the story of how he happened to meet, two years ago, one of the former Navy SEALs who was killed in a recent terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11. Mr. Romney praised Glen Doherty's courage and cited him as an example of the American spirit.
A Boston television station has reported that the mother of Mr. Doherty voiced anger that he was speaking about her son on the campaign trail.
"I don't trust Romney. He shouldn't make my son's death part of his political agenda. It's wrong to use these brave young men, who wanted freedom for all, to degrade Obama,” said Barbara Doherty, Glen’s mother, according to WHDH-Channel 7.
During the town hall, Mr. Romney was asked by a mother of a child with spina bifida about some pro-Obama radio ads that suggest people with special-needs children should be concerned about their children losing health care if Mr. Romney is elected and is successful at repealing Obamacare, officially the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Romney said he had not heard the ad, but labeled it "fear-mongering," and said his administration would work on helping families care for children with special needs and search for cures.
"What's going to happen without Obamacare is we'll finally be able to get the premiums to come down and lower the rate of growth of health care expenditures and let people choose the plan they want, as opposed to the plan the President and the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. are going to impose on the American people," Mr. Romney said.
Mr. Romney was to continue on to a campaign stop in Delaware and end the day with a rally in Shelby County, near Dayton.