Updated 11:59 p.m.
Gov. Mitt Romney greeted a raucous crowd of supporters at a rally Thursday afternoon hoping to rebound from a week of controversy.
The Republican presidential candidate addressed the crowd at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the the shadows of the statue of David and the glistening Sarasota Bay.
"We're going to take back America," Romney said. "Keep America Strong!"
He continued that "this is a critical election you know that. This is about the soul of America."
Romney also focused on Medicare protection at the rally—a key issue for the many senior Floridians.
"I will save Medicare and protect it for our seniors for today and our seniors for tomorrow," Romney said.
Romney said Medicare investments means $1.4 billion alone to Sarasota County.
"We're going to put that $716 billion back in the Medicare, back into our system, back into the care of our seniors," Romney continued.
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The Obama campaign released a statement Thursday criticizing Romney's health care plan.
"He hasn’t offered many details about his plans to turn Medicare into a voucher system, but we do know is frightening. Instead of their guaranteed benefits, seniors would be left with a voucher," the Obama campaign wrote. "But the voucher wouldn’t grow fast enough to keep up with the costs of health care, so seniors would find themselves paying thousands of dollars more every year – all while insurance companies made as much as $16 to $26 billion in new profits."
Romney highlighted his five objectives as well:
- Take advantage of coal, natural gas, nuclear power and oil in the U.S.
- Expand trade and punish China's trade tactics
- Improve education and lessen effects of teacher unions; federal dollars to be attached to child that can be transferred to the school of his or her parents' choice
- Decrease deficit, cap spending for balanced budget so "we will not be Greece at some point."
- Champion small business
"The president's plan for a million small businesses is to raise taxes, to take it from 35 percent to 40 percent—that's the federal income tax—I will not let that happen because jobs are my priority," Romney said.
Romney is on the defensive this week after a video leaked Monday where he told a crowd in Boca Raton earlier this year that 47 percent of the country would vote for the president anyway as those folks are "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims."
The Mother Jones story spread through the media and politicians on both sides of the aisle criticized Romney for his comments, and Romney himself admitted that his remarks were "inelegant."
Romney had his own protesters here in Sarasota saying that "I love protesters" and hoped he had some time to talk to them about wanting change.
"We're going to take back this country and get it back on track to greatness again," Romney said.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi spoke at the rally trying to criticize Obama's universal healthcare plan while boosting support for Romney.
"Mitt is the most honest, ethical man I know," Bondi said. "And he is going to make a wonderful president of the United States of America."
Romney is expected to wrap up the event at 5 p.m., and is scheduled to visit West Palm Beach for a fundraiser while his campaign will continue in Miami, and Gainesville this week, with Paul Ryan in Orlando, for campaign events.
Crowds and volunteers started filing in around 11 a.m. for the event then found the tight security procedures starting when around noon security blocked off a perimeter near the event area to set up mobile airport-like security checkpoints.
Medics and volunteers were busy handing out water to the thousands who attended, and at least two people were treated for heat-related illnesses.
Meanwhile, it was business as normal at Ringling Museum as visitors filed through Treviso restaurant, the Banyan Cafe and the various museums on the campus.
The Ringling Museum's spokesman Scott Gardiner told Patch the campaign event was OK within the museum's and Florida State University policies.
"As with any organization, special events require modification to our standard conditions. As an example, the recent Jackie Evancho “Dream with Me” filming, produced for PBS in April of 2010, did not fit within the standard conditions and a special rental agreement was created," Gardiner told Patch.
"Ringling is not hosting or sponsoring the Mitt Romney event," Gardiner continued. "The Ringling Museum is being rented through a business transaction at fair market value."
The rental policy posted on the museum's website is for after-hours events and used for common events such as weddings and rentals and specifiies no revenue-generating or political events could be hosted at the museum.