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MITT ROMNEY

Romney cites his business experience

The former Massachusetts governor paints rival McCain as economically naive.

By Seema Mehta

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 29, 2008

PANAMA CITY, FLA.

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As Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has crisscrossed Florida trying to sway voters, he has promoted his business skills as vital to fixing the nation's economy.

"We need to have a president who's actually had a job in the private sector to make sure the economy stays strong," he told hundreds of cheering supporters Monday in an airy airport hangar in this Panhandle beach community. "I'm that guy."

Romney says his experience from 25 years as a businessman, three years running the Olympics and four years as Massachusetts governor surpasses the credentials of candidates who have spent their careers in Washington -- a swipe at rival John McCain, the senator from Arizona.

In recent days, the two GOP candidates have intensified their attacks on each other. Romney has painted McCain as economically naive and called his legislative record "liberal."

McCain has likened Romney to the Democratic candidates who want to set a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Romney has called these remarks "dishonest" and "desperate."

Romney, who can come off as almost robotic because of his storybook family and perfectly coiffed hair, appears to be trying to loosen his image.

The health-conscious Romney stopped at a KFC over the weekend and ordered fried chicken and several sides -- though he carefully peeled the oily skin off the chicken before taking a bite. And at one event in a Cuban American neighborhood, he exchanged his trademark staid button-down shirt for a loose white guayabera.

Romney's message resonated with voter Sheri Frickey, whose husband has spent 18 months in Iraq with the Air Force. Frickey, 29, walked into a rally in Lutz on Saturday torn between Romney's business acumen and McCain's military credentials.

Cradling her 10-week-old daughter, Amadea, Frickey said, "I absolutely loved what he had to say about the economy, and about what he's going to do to strengthen the economy, for her future."

seema.mehta@latimes.com