-- SAN DIEGO—Mitt Romney warned Monday that the "world is not safe" and cast the upcoming election as a choice between a nation that is weakened militarily versus "a strong America."
Speaking at a Memorial Day event at a veterans museum in San Diego, Romney made no direct mention of the upcoming election or President Obama. But his message was clear, as he said Americans "have two courses we could follow" when it comes to the direction of the country.
"One is to follow the pathway of Europe, to shrink our military smaller and smaller to pay for our social needs… and hope for the best," Romney said. "But if we followed that course, there would be no one stand and protect us."
"The other," Romney continued, "is to commit to preserve America as the strongest military in the world, second to none, with no comparable power anywhere in the world."
Listing off a litany of risks—including "Iran rushing to become a nuclear nation" and the growing military strength of China—Romney said protecting America's military strength isn't just to "win wars and prevent wars" but to deter wars.
"A strong America is the best deterrent to war that ever as been invented," Romney declared.
The event, held at the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in San Diego, attracted roughly 5,000 people—one of the largest crowds that Romney has addressed as a presidential candidate.
But it was unclear how many people turned up to hear Romney. The event, sponsored by the museum and the Vietnam Veterans of America, is an annual event that regularly attracts thousands of people each year. Organizers were careful to note that the event was not political and said they had warned Romney to not make his remarks specifically about the campaign.
But the crowd was unmistakably friendly to Romney. Many wore Romney 2012 shirts and stickers, and most stood and cheered, waving tiny American flags as the former Massachusetts governor took the stage. At one point, a woman stood and screamed, "Romney! We want YOU!"
On stage, Romney was introduced as a "friend of veterans" and "someone we hope will be the next Commander in Chief."
Heading into November's election, Romney enjoys a major advantage over President Obama when it comes to support among veterans. A Gallup poll released Monday found Romney with a 28-point lead over President Obama among vets, 58 percent to Obama's 34 percent. Among non-veterans, Obama has a slight lead—48 percent to Romney's 44 percent.
Romney was joined at the event by his former 2008 rival John McCain, a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war whom Romney referred to as "a national treasure."
The Arizona senator spoke before Romney, and at one point, a protestor interrupted his remarks. From the stage, McCain watched as the man was removed from the event, before flatly declaring, "Jerk."
McCain praised Romney as a candidate who believes in "American exceptionalism" and would make a great president.
"I am proud to be here with a great friend," McCain said.