Romney defends not standing up for soldier who was booed during GOP debate in Florida

Prominent Democrats – from President Obama on down – have criticized the Republican presidential candidates for standing silently at a presidential debate in Florida, when the audience booed a gay soldier asking a question about the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay soldiers serving.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney recently defended his inaction – while a supporter of Texas Governor Rick Perry was taped saying he was happy the soldier was booed.

Romney, asked about the booing in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, said he did not know whether the audience was booing the soldier or the question – and did not necessarily agree with the sentiment behind the booing. “I would tell you that in these debates there’s been a lot of booing and a lot of applause, cheering and booing, some of which I don’t agree with,’’ Romney said. “I don‘t know when they booed and I don’t know why people booed. But I will tell you that the boos and the applause have not always coincided with my own views.’’

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But Romney said, in a clip of the interview excerpted by Politico, that even if he does not agree with the boos, “I haven’t stepped in to try and say, ‘This one’s right, this one’s wrong.’ Instead I try to focus on the things I want to say.’’ He continued, “I haven’t made it my practice to listen to the cheers and the boos and try to correct the people on their expressions of their views.’’

Meanwhile, Perry supporter Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state representative and retired Marine who accompanied Perry at New Hampshire events this weekend, was taped by the gay and lesbian advocacy group ThinkProgress stating that “I thought it was great’’ when they booed the soldier.

“I was so disgusted over that gay Marine coming out,’’ Baldasaro said on the tape. “When the [expletive] hits the fan, you want your brothers covering your back, not looking at your back.’’ Baldasaro has a reputation as an outspoken state representative, who has been a strong opponent of New Hampshire’s gay marriage law.

Reached by phone, Baldasaro confirmed that the comments were accurate and said he had no problem with gay people, “but when you’re in the Marine Corps, it’s a different ball game.’’ He referred a reporter to comments made by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, who said in December 2009 that Marines “viewed repeal [of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell] negatively regarding unit effectiveness, unit readiness and cohesion.’’ (ThinkProgress reported that the soldier, Stephen Hill, was a soldier, not a Marine.)

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Baldasaro said he has not heard from the Perry campaign about his remark. A call to the Perry campaign was not immediately returned. But Perry surrogate Matt Gaetz, a Florida state representative, who talked to reporters after the Florida debate, called the booing “unfortunate’’ and “disrespectful,’’ according to Talking Points Memo.

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