Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Thursday that traditional marriage is essential for education in the U.S. to improve, and he recited a schoolyard ditty to underscore his point to gathering of Republican women.

"First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage," the presidential hopeful told a crowd of about 175 people gathered at a private club.

He said student success is closely tied to married couples getting involved in their children's education.

"Every child in America deserves a mom and a dad," Romney said. "We've got to have marriage before we have babies if we're going to have parental involvement in our schools."

Romney also told the crowd that he favors the establishment of charter schools and a system of increased pay for some teachers. "It's time for teaching to be recognized as the profession it is. This is not making widgets," he said.

Education and family play well in South Carolina, which will hold the first primary in the South in less than a year.

Romney has to appeal to conservative Christians here, and some of them have questioned whether his Mormon faith adheres to fundamental Christian values. The self-described religious right here accounted for a third of the GOP presidential primary in 2000.

But Romney has found key support from U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who describes himself as an evangelical Christian. "What he's done is translate his faith into a set of moral principles that we can all agree on," DeMint said.

Romney and McCain, who by far have the two largest campaign organizations in the state, are doing all they can to appeal to conservative Christians, with much of that push coming on the topic of abortion.

In the 2000 primary, then Texas-Gov. George Bush won here as he waged a campaign undercutting McCain's position on abortion.

In 1998, McCain said he opposed abortion, but that he was concerned that overturning a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion could pose a threat to women's health. He later said he misspoke, but the Bush campaign seized on the issue. On Sunday, McCain told a crowd in Spartanburg he wants the Supreme Court ruling overturned.

In his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Romney said he steadfastly supported a woman's right to choose abortion. Romney is telling audiences during his presidential campaign that he changed that position after a discussion with academics on stem cell research.

Meanwhile, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has made a clean break from both of those candidates on the issue of abortion. "I'd like to see it ended, but ultimately I believe that a woman has the right to choose," Giuliani said Wednesday during a news conference in Spartanburg.

Romney headed to Spartanburg on Thursday night, giving a speech that touched on foreign policy. The one-term governor lacks the international experience some of his GOP opponents are touting in this primary election.

The U.S. "spends a lot of time thinking about Iraq. We're going to spend more time thinking about Iran as time goes on," Romney told a crowd of about 500 at a fundraiser for the Spartanburg County Republican Party.

Romney blamed Iran for providing weapons killing U.S. troops in Iraq and said radical Muslims are determined to undermine moderate Islamic governments. "They sound crazy. They are crazy," he said. "But they're not stupid."

Romney said Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina want to engage Iran diplomatically, when the U.S. should be tightening sanctions against Iran instead.

"You don't want to reward bad behavior," Romney said.

Romney started his day at a Rock Hill breakfast meeting.