For a candidate who has been portrayed as stiff and disconnected by the media, Mitt Romney won the favor of St. Louis-area residents Tuesday with his personality.
The former Massachusetts governor kicked off a town hall meeting in by asking the crowd of hundreds if they refer to their state as "Missour-ah" like former GOP Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, who handled introduction duties for the event, or "Missour-ee," like Romney pronounces the name of the state. The crowd laughed and hollered in support of Romney's version.
"OK, I think we're in Missour-ee now," Romney said, with a chuckle. "I think we're going to Missour-ah a little later today."
During his 30-minute speech, the presidential hopeful promised to cut federal spending, reduce the size of government, balance the budget and protect funding for the U.S. military if elected.
He also called for a change to current energy polices and criticized President Barack Obama for not drilling in the gulf or Alaska, nor supporting the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport crude oil from Canada.
"The right course instead is to say we're going to take every action to open up American energy: coal, oil, gas, nuclear, renewable," Romney said. "We're going to open up those sources and finally get energy secure in this country."
Attendees of the event who are having to pay more at the pump responded with thunderous applause.
Bob Trask, of Eureka, was undecided about which conservative candidate he would vote for in Missouri's caucus on Saturday, but Romney won him over with policies and personality.
"I thought he was way more engaging and personable here than people want to give him credit for," Trask said. "People say he has a disconnect problem, but I don't see it at all, especially after today."
The town hall meeting drew residents young and old, and Romney won the favor of both.
Kevin Stewart, a law student at Saint Louis University who has supported Romney since 2008, said he respected the candidate's perseverance.
"The fact that he's willing to go through this cycle again testifies to his willingness that he's sincere in wanting to help this country," he said.
Stewart's classmate, Brendan Block, said that he thinks Romney's economic policies will help ensure graduates will be able to find jobs.
But not everyone at the event supported the presidential candidate.
Members of the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition and Planned Parenthood, as well as residents not affiliated with organizations, packed the corner of West Adams Avenue and North Geyer Road to waive protest signs denouncing the candidate.
"We're out here today because we feel Romney is out of touch with Missouri values, and it's important that we not let him go unchallenged," said Julie Terbrock, a member of the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition.
Angie Postal, an advocate for Planned Parenthood, said Romney is dangerous for women's health.
The protestors met with mixed reviews. Some motorists honked in support while one woman shouted Romney's name as she drove through the intersection.