San Diego, California (CNN) – Speaking to an enthusiastic audience of several thousand on Memorial Day, Mitt Romney cast the presidential campaign as a choice between a candidate who supports a strong military and one who would shrink the defense budget and weaken the nation's armed forces.
The presumptive GOP nominee underlined the urgency of his message by warning supporters the world was "not safe."
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"I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place today," he told an audience of roughly 5,000 people – many of them military families – at an outdoor park in San Diego. "It's not."
Romney offered a laundry list of geopolitical concerns from Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon, to Mexican drug cartels, to Russia's growing military.
"We have two courses we can follow," he said. "One is to follow the pathway of Europe, to shrink our military smaller and smaller to pay for our social needs."
As commercial planes rumbled overhead, descending toward a nearby airport, Romney suggested he would choose another path.
"The other is to commit to preserve America as the strongest military in the world, second to none, with no comparable power anywhere in the world. We choose that course," he said. "We choose that course for America not just so that we can win wars, but so we can prevent wars. Because a strong America is the best deterrent to war that ever has been invented."
While Romney did not mention President Barack Obama by name, the president's 2013 budget proposal called for cuts in military spending.
Before the event, Romney supporter Sen. John McCain joined the presumptive GOP nominee in a wreath-laying ceremony to honor the nation's fallen service members.
McCain, a former prisoner-of-war who directed a stream of military jokes to an audience filled with veterans, said Romney was "fully qualified to be commander-in-chief" and vouched for his candidacy.
"He believes in American exceptionalism," McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, said. "He believes that the 21st century will also be an American century. And I am confident of his leadership and I know of his support for veterans and their families."
A recent Gallup tracking poll showed Romney leading Obama among veterans by 20%.