BERLIN, New Hampshire Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, seen by many as the choice of moderate Republicans in 2012, sought to widen his appeal on Wednesday by saying he was "in sync" with the conservative Tea Party.
Romney met with a group of about 25 steelworkers at a campaign stop in the northern New Hampshire town of Berlin.
The former corporate raider, who has a net worth of about $250 million, got a less rapt reception than at some of his meetings with fellow business professionals.
The workers peppered Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, with questions about why cutting government spending would stimulate the economy, how he would adequately protect Social Security and whether he considered himself a member of the Tea Party.
Romney hedged on the latter question.
"I don't know that you sign a membership," he said. "What I consider myself is someone who is in sync with the Tea Party."
Many Tea Party members don't see themselves as "in sync" with Romney, however. In Massachusetts he helped author the statewide healthcare mandate that was an inspiration for President Barack Obama's 2010 national health reforms
Obamacare and Romneycare, as they are derisively referred too, are disliked by the Tea Party as an example of government overreach. Romney has defended the state law while promising to repeal the federal version, should he be elected.
Romney reiterated his view that military spending should be exempt from any attempt to balance the federal budget. Defense spending accounts for about half of discretionary U.S. federal spending.
"I am not in favor of cutting defense," he said. "Some people would like to cut that down dramatically, not me."
Romney echoed many of the talking points voiced in Bedford, New Hampshire, by Republican rival Rick Perry, the governor of Texas.
"Our regulation, our bureaucracy, our tax rates are so much higher than other countries," Romney said. "The right answer for America is to get government smaller."
Perry's arrival on the scene could pose problems for Romney. Some pundits see the Texan as more able to unite the various Republican factions behind him.
Romney, who on Monday appeared to target Perry with comments about the need for private-sector experience in the White House, declined to take the bait again.
"I'm not looking to be in a give and take with Gov. Perry. He's a fine guy, a fine governor."
The Republican race to find a challenger to Obama is "still a bit of an open field," said Romney. "We welcome folks in, the more the merrier. If others want to get in, the waters' fine."
(Reporting by Jason McLure in Berlin, writing by Ros Krasny, editing by Todd Eastham)