News your connection to The Boston Globe

Romney tells Hillsdale College grads U.S. military must be strengthened

HILLSDALE, Mich. --Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney told graduates of a Michigan college on Saturday that the U.S. military must be strengthened because evil exists in the world.

Romney said he wants to add at least 100,000 troops and re-equip the military because of armaments lost during fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to accelerate the nation's missile defense system.

"The right course for America in a world where evil still exists is not acquiescence and weakness, it is assertiveness and strength," Romney said in a commencement address at Hillsdale College in which he cited radical Islam and Iran as threats.

Romney -- whose father, George, was a Michigan governor in the 1960s -- is counting on support in his native state. The former Massachusetts governor faces several other Republican hopefuls, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

McCain was in Michigan for fundraisers earlier this week. Romney, who received an honorary degree from Hillsdale, last campaigned in Michigan on April 28.

The Democratic National Committee this week criticized some of Romney's ads on national security, saying his strategy in Iraq would amount to four more years of President Bush's "failed" strategy.

In a statement posted on its Web site this week, Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera said "what the American people are really looking for is a clear plan to end the war in Iraq."

Romney said that while the U.S. must have a strong military to keep peace, it must work to maintain its ties with allies around the globe. He said economy and family strength is important.

"He handled himself well," Joe Caspersen, a Hillsdale College student, said after the speech.

Romney continued to face questions about his stance on abortion. In recent years, Romney has switched from supporting abortion rights to opposing the procedure.

An anti-abortion group circulated a letter this week, saying it is concerned about financial support given by Romney's wife, Ann, to Planned Parenthood in 1994. The letter also questioned a health care bill Romney supported in Massachusetts that critics say expanded taxpayer-funded abortions.

Lynette Wilhelm, president of the Hillsdale College Students for Life, said she understands that people can change their views on abortion but that Romney's record "does cause me to not support him."

Romney has been accepted by some anti-abortion groups. This week, he picked up an award from Massachusetts Citizens for Life and addressed the group during its Mother's Day dinner.