-- WARSAW, Poland—Mitt Romney called Poland "an example and defender of freedom" and said the world should pay heed to the transformation of the former Communist state's economy, insisting it's proof free enterprise works.
In the final speech of his week-long overseas trip, Romney said Poland had risen from the "dark times" of its time under control of the Soviet Union to become a "shining example of the prosperity that economic opportunity can bring." He said while other nations have fallen into recession, Poland has "weathered the storm and continued to flourish."
"Rather than heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade, and live within its means," Romney said, addressing a crowd in the atrium of a local college library here. "Your success today is a reminder that the principles of free enterprise can propel an economy and transform a society."
In an obvious appeal to Catholic voters back in the United States, Romney paid homage to the role faith had played in the country's transformation. He spoke of a famous 1979 mass here in Warsaw conducted by the late Pope John Paul II, in which he championed freedom and urged the country to "be not afraid."
"John Paul II understood that a nation is not a flag or a plot of land," Romney said. "It is a people--a community of values. And the highest value Poland honors--to the world's great fortune--is man's innate desire to be free."
Romney emphasized the close ties between the U.S. and Poland—telling his audience "you can't get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country."
"Our nations belong to the great fellowship of democracies," Romney said. "We speak the same language of freedom and justice. We uphold the right of every person to live in peace."
Among other things, Romney cited Poland's military commitment alongside the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. Against the backdrop of tensions between the U.S. and Poland over the Obama administration's decision to cancel an air missile defense system in Poland, Romney said it is "critical to stand by those who have stood by America."
"We have fought and died together. We share a common cause, tested by time, inseparable by foe," Romney said. "In times of trouble and in times of peace, we march together."
It was Romney's last scheduled public event before he departs Poland and comes after days of focus on the candidate's perceived verbal missteps during trips to Israel and London.
Speaking to reporters after Romney's speech, Stuart Stevens, one of the candidate's top political advisers, called his boss's overseas jaunt "a great success." He dismissed suggestions the controversies which trailed Romney throughout his foreign tour would hurt him with voters back home, insisting Romney had not been trying to win the "electoral college" in the U.K., Israel or Poland.
"I don't think that will go down as very important," Stevens said when asked about Romney's missteps.