WARWICK – On his first full day as the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for president, Mitt Romney visited Rhode Island Wednesday, blasting President Barack Obama for the stagnating economy and lack of jobs in America.
Romney appeared at a Town Hall type meeting at the Crown Plaza hotel that lasted just over 45 minutes, taking questions on everything from the plight of the local fishing economy to who he will choose as a running mate.
Addressing what has suddenly become Question Number One on the campaign trail, Romney at first said, “Everyone is on my list,” including all of the Republican candidates for president in the primary race. Almost immediately he backtracked and told the crowd of over 200 that “I don’t have a list.”
Romney said the main criteria he would use to select the second person on his ticket would be, “is this a person who could be President of the United States.”
A man in the audience asked Romney if he would pick former foe Rick Santorum as his running mate, drawing laughter from the politically savvy crowd.
Romney’s campaign took a great leap forward earlier this week when his closest competitor for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum, suspended his campaign prior to a large block of primaries a week from Tuesday that includes contests in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The remaining two candidates in the GOP field, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, have been relegated to also-rans after poor showings in polls and in earlier primary contests.
While there were prominent Rhode Island Republicans in the room who are running for office, including 1st District congressional candidate Brendan Doherty and senatorial candidate Barry Hinckley, Romney offered no endorsements or even shout-outs to them from the stage. He did invoke his former gubernatorial colleague, Republican Donald Carcieri, who was not present, saying, “I just love that guy.”
Hinckley even asked a question during the forum, linking his candidacy to Romney’s by bringing up the “Buffett Rule” that would impose a minimum 30 percent tax on the nation’s highest earners. Buffett Rule
legislation introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Hinckley’s opponent, and has been embraced by President Obama.
Romney answered that the Buffett Rule “has nothing to do with getting America working again or strengthening the foundations of our economy.
“Does anyone think that raising taxes is going to create more jobs?” the candidate asked rhetorically. Does anyone think Congress needs more money. This president’s incentive right now is to try to divide Americans and to try to deflect from the fact that he has failed to create jobs and put people back to work and he is failing to get rising incomes for middle income Americans.”
Hinckley told The Times that Romney as “a problem solver.”
He said Rhode Island is “in a turn-around situation, and Mitt Romney is a turn-around expert. We need a turn-around right now and we need it bad. I feel the turn-around we need, he is capable of handling.
Hinkley said Romney “he’s proven to be good at fixing large problems, and that is a skill set not everyone has.” Hinckley has endorsed Romney and says he hopes Romney will endorse his senate campaign.
Before the main event, Romney met with eight owners of Rhode Island small businesses to discuss the difficulties they are having and how he will improve the nation’s business climate.
The former Massachusetts governor joked that, being so close to home, “I’m going to get to spend the night in my own bed tonight, I think I’ve done that two or three times since Christmas.”
Romney said being on the campaign trail has taught him that, “America is strong, the people of this country love America. We’re patriotic, we’re entrepreneurial, we’re innovative, we are can-do type of people. We’re disappointed in the economy the last three and a half years, but we’re not despondent.
“People in this country are facing some really tough times,” Romney said. “Before the campaign gets in full swing, I hope the facts are out there, that we’ve lost about 800,000 jobs in this country while this president has been in office and home values have declined by about a third in many places in this country. Home foreclosures are at a record 2.7 or 2.8 million homes foreclosed upon. The median income in America has dropped by about 10 percent in the last four years.”
Reversing what has increasingly been a Democratic theme in recent months, Romney said, “This president has a lot of explaining to do to women of America. The Democrats, I think in anticipation of the anger of women in America have been saying Republicans are waging a war on women. Oh, no, no, the real war on women has been waged by this president’s economic policies, they have failed American women.
He claimed that, of the 800,000 jobs that have been lost 92 percent of them belonged to women.
Before Romney arrived in the Ocean State, the Democratic party issued a statement refuting that statistic. They claim economists say that is the result of the recession Obama inherited.
The release went on to say “Mitt Romney just doesn’t get it when it comes to fairness for women or the middle class.” A Democrat press release said Romney’s tax plan would give a $250,000 to “every millionaire” while “raising taxes on millions of hardworking families making less than $40,000 a year.”
Doherty, the Republican poised to face off against freshman Democratic Rep. David Cicilline in the 1st District congressional race called the presidential candidate’s visit “exciting for Rhode Island.” Doherty said Romney “knows a lot about Rhode Island and understands the difficulties of New England states.”
Doherty has endorsed Romney and when he was asked if Romney would return the favor, Doherty said, “I would expect that.”
John Robitaille, the Republican candidate for governor in 2010, said “it is extremely important that he is here. He needs to start spreading his message on what the alternatives are to the current president.”
Robitaille said Romney “is focusing on his economic plan, especially as it relates to job creation,” and pointing out some of the failures of the Obama administration on economic policy, particularly as it relates to women.
Robitaille quoted a Romney campaign statistic that 92 percent of the jobs lost during the Obama years belonged to women, but the Democratic Party answered that economists have said that statistic is related to the recession Obama inherited.
Patrick Sweeney, Hinckley campaign chief and until recently the executive director of the RI Republican Party called it “a boost for Rhode Island that the governor is starting his general election campaign here.
“It’s pretty special,” Sweeney said, it is sort of the boost that our base needs.”