THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Middle East, check. Now about that health care law?

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / April 3, 2011

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LAS VEGAS — It was billed as a foreign policy address, but it didn’t take long before the most prominent issue that could haunt Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign came up.

The first question from the audience after his 24-minute address yesterday before the Republican Jewish Coalition here was not about Israel or unrest in the Middle East. It was about Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts.

Romney largely defended the rationale of the Massachusetts plan, but he sought to distinguish it from President Obama’s national plan by casting it as an issue of states’ rights.

“I would never do what President Obama did, which is usurp the power of states and replace it with an overreaching federal hand,’’ Romney said. “That’s the wrong way.’’

He reiterated that he would grant waivers to all 50 states if he were elected, and then work to repeal the legislation.

Romney, who was joined by his wife, Ann, spoke before about 200 people in a ballroom at the Venetian Hotel. Among those in the room was Sheldon Adelson, the Dorchester-born casino magnate who has given some of his considerable wealth to Republican political causes.

Romney had zingers for Democrats (“We are flying high because Nancy Pelosi is flying coach’’), commentary on his music tastes (“I like country music’’), and one-liners about his four-year tenure as governor (“I’ve not been in politics so long that I inhaled. I’m still a business guy.’’)

Although the speech focused on foreign policy, he never mentioned the hottest foreign policy issue — Libya — but he briefly addressed the broader unrest in the Middle East.

“It’s hard to read where that’s going to go,’’ he said. “This could either be one of the most positive developments in the history of the last 50 years in the Middle East. . . . Or it could be one of the worst things that’s happened over the last 50 years.’’