UPDATED 03/16/12 12:56 p.m.
ROSEMONT, Ill. (CBS) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a crack about the purported Chicago tradition of voting early and often Friday, as he campaigned at a restaurant in Rosemont.
Romney also called himself an “economic heavyweight,” and dismissed President Barack Obama as a “lightweight.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, the Illinois primary is often an afterthought in the grand scheme of presidential campaigns, with Super Tuesday and several other crucial primaries coming first. But with the 2012 Republican presidential campaign still very much undecided, the Republican candidates are still battling it out.
Romney met Friday morning with the breakfast crowd at Pancakes Eggcetera, at 9463 W. Higgins Rd. in Rosemont. While mingling with the enthusiastic crowd along with his Illinois campaign manager, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, Romney also tried to show off his knowledge of Chicago history.
“I need you all to vote, and by the way, you’re allowed to vote multiple times – by, by, getting a friend to go with you,” Romney said. “There you go.”
In reference to the joke he made, he said, “Hey, I’m in Chicago.”
Romney also greeted the overflow crowd and shook the hands of seemingly every person in the restaurant. Dozens of people joined him for photo ops.
Romney signed campaign posters and a baseball, and even held a baby during the campaign appearance.
He aimed his rhetorical barbs at President Barack Obama, whom he blames for high gas prices and federal deficits.
“This is an election about the soul of America, and what kind of America we’re going to have,” Romney said. “Is it going to be dominated by government and bureaucrats who think they know better than free people pursuing their dreams, or are we going to remain the nation of the free and the brave, and the hope of the earth, where people are going to be able to pursue their own course in life?” Romney said. “That’s what I represent.”
By contrast, Romney said he knew how to handle the economy properly, and would do so as president.
“We’re not going to be successful in replacing an economic lightweight with an economic lightweight, and I’m an economic heavyweight. I know how this economy works,” he said. “I’m going to get it working for the American people, because I care about the American people.”
Romney also accused of President Obama of apologizing for American actions, and said the nation has nothing to apologize for.
“This president, in his first days and office, began going around the world apologizing for America,” he said. “If I’m president of the United States, I will not apologize for the greatest nation in the history of the earth.”
Romney added that President Obama has never really held a job in the private sector.
“It’s hard to create a job if you’ve never actually had one,” Romney said,
Not everyone at the event was a Romney supporter. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) came with a delegation of supporters of Planned Parenthood. She said a Romney presidency would be an absolute disaster for women who cherish reproductive rights.
Romney said in a recent interview that as president, he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood.
“If he wants to make contraception in the year 2012 controversial, I say bring it on” Schakowsky said, “because the women of America are simply not going to go back.”
When WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya asked Romney what he thought of the protest, he did not answer the question. Nor did he mention birth control or Planned Parenthood in his speech.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports
When Romney did a live interview on Fox News, all the other media were forced to leave the restaurant before the interview was over.
Meanwhile, Romney’s GOP rival, Rick Santorum, will be in the Chicago area later in the day.
On Friday afternoon, Santorum will address a rally at Hersey High School, at 1900 E. Thomas St. in Arlington Heights, before moving to another event at Christian Liberty Academy, at 502 W. Euclid Ave., also in Arlington Heights.
Protesters from the Gay Liberation Network will be at the Santorum appearance at Christian Liberty Academy. Along with the group Carmel Catholic Alumni against Rick Santorum, they will post signs with such messages as “Catholics against Hate,” and “No to Santorum, Yes to Equality.”
Santorum is an alumnus of Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein.
The Gay Liberation Network pointed out some of Santorum’s statements they say show bias against gays and other groups. Among them is this quote: “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution.”
Gay Liberation Network co-founder Andy Thayer goes on to lament that no major presidential candidate has come out in favor of full marriage equality.
Meanwhile, Santorum is just back from Puerto Rico, where he is taking heat after telling a newspaper that English should be the main language if the territory is to ever become a state.
“We understand that the people of different cultures speak different languages, but we have a common language,” he said.
Reuters reported that Santorum said Puerto Rico needed to be in compliance with the federal law that “English has to be the principal language,” even though there is no such law.
The man whom one of the two candidates will face in November – President Obama himself – is also in Chicago Friday. He will attend a fundraiser at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe St.
Marine One had landed, and President Obama’s motorcade was headed to the hotel, as of around noon.
It all comes a day after Obama took a few swipes at his opponents for lacking any big ideas.
“We’re starting to see a lot of politicians talking a lot, but not doing much,” Obama said to a crowd at Prince George Community College in Largo, Md.
The president has also enlisted the help of Hollywood heavyweight Tom Hanks to narrate a 17-minute film highlighting his accomplishments in office. And Vice President Joe Biden is taking the gloves off.
“If you give any one of these guys the keys to the White House, they will bankrupt the middle class again,” he said at a speech to autoworkers in Toledo, Ohio.