- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich (AP) — Mitt Romney promised yesterday to return the Republican Party to its core principles, while rival John McCain portrayed himself as the most qualified to take charge of the country during dangerous times.

“Change must begin with us,” Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, told activists as he challenged a party reeling from excessive spending and embarrassing scandals to “put our own house in order.”

Taking a broader view, Mr. McCain, Arizona senator, lamented “a perilous time for our party but, far more important, a perilous time for our country” as he gave a sobering assessment of worldwide threats.

In his address, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee called for avoiding “weakness” in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said defeating terrorists would be his top goal if he were elected, the Detroit News reported.

“The No. 1 thing on my mind tonight, the No 1 thing I think is important to our country, is to make sure that we protect our people. We are now in a global war with a relentless enemy,” he said, noting that “weakness invites attack.”

Mr. McCain, the last candidate to address the forum, said the nation must give the military more time to create stability in Iraq.

“The American people have grown sick and tired of [the war],” Mr. McCain said. “I too have been made sick at heart by the many mistakes made by our civilian and military commanders.

“I want our troops to come home, but I want them to come home with honor.”

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani made his pitch on Friday.

The four top Republican presidential hopefuls and a few underdogs descended on Michigan to cozy up to 1,500 activists from a state that is an early player in the nomination race, with a Jan. 15 primary.

Trying to stand out from the crowded field, Mr. Romney is bluntly confronting problems plaguing Republicans in his new stump speech, fresh TV ads and an open letter to party leaders.

In a blistering critique of Republicans, Mr. Romney argued that they share the blame with Democrats for the nation’s woes. He bemoaned excessive spending, insecure borders and ethical lapses. “When Republicans act like Democrats, America loses,” he said.

Even as he sought to distance himself from President Bush, Mr. Romney gave him limited credit for keeping the United States safe and “restoring personal integrity and dignity to the White House.” But he rattled off a slew of problems with the government, saying, for example, that the post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup “didn’t look like Republicans were in charge.”

Unlike Mr. Giuliani’s rambunctious reception the night before, Mr. Romney got only scattered and infrequent applause. Only when he returned to his usual right-flank pitch — restoring family values and shrinking government — did the audience come alive.

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