MOUNT VERNON, Ohio Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney deviated Wednesday from his usual well-choreographed campaign rally for a flying-without-a-net, Oprah-style town hall in which audience members asked questions.
The question-and-answer session at the Ariel Corp. manufacturing plant appeared to be a warmup for next week's presidential debate between Republican nominee Romney and President Barack Obama. The debate will use a town hall format with questions from the audience.
Through seven questions from a friendly sparring partner of an audience at the manufacturing plant, which makes natural gas compressors, Romney, clad in jeans and a white shirt, carried a microphone among listeners and touched on the key themes of his campaign repealing the Affordable Care Act, taking China to task over its currency and trade tactics, cutting taxes and blasting Obama as weak on foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.
Romney only occasionally employs the unpredictable town hall format, preferring to stick to the well-scripted traditional campaign events, where he usually gives a brisk 15- to 20-minute stump speech.
"We've done them before, and we view them as a good opportunity to greet voters and talk to them directly about some of the concerns they have about how important issues are affecting their community," Kevin Madden, a Romney senior adviser, said of the town halls.
Still, opening himself to questions presents some risks for Romney. He is sometimes prone to gaffes or straying off message when speaking off the cuff. Such a moment happened Tuesday in an interview with the Des Moines Register, in which he said regulating abortion would not be part of his legislative agenda if elected president.
"There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda," he told the paper's editorial board.
The Register reported that Romney "by executive order, not legislation," would reinstate the so-called Mexico City policy that bans U.S. foreign aid dollars from being used to perform abortions. Obama ended the George W. Bush-era policy shortly after taking office.
On the campaign trail and during the Republican primaries, Romney said he is against legalized abortion.
At an Ohio campaign stop Wednesday, Romney told reporters, "I think I've said time and again, I'm a pro-life candidate. I'll be a pro-life president. The actions I'll take immediately are to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget."
Some social conservatives have been wary of Romney on the issue because of his previous support for legalized abortion.
Obama's campaign on Wednesday seized upon Romney's "legislation" remarks, accusing him of trying to hide his "extreme" views in the final weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
"We know the real Mitt Romney will say anything to win," said Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager. "Voters shouldn't be fooled. Women simply cannot trust Mitt Romney."