In what sounded like a preview of his own acceptance speech, Republican Mitt Romney came to Charlotte on Wednesday to make a case against President Barack Obama as a failed leader whose policies have made the economy worse.
“He’s over his head, swimming in the wrong direction,” the presumptive GOP presidential nominee told about 270 supporters, with a giant American flag and Charlotte’s skyline behind him.
Looking tanned, the former Massachusetts governor spoke briefly but bitingly in a fifth-floor venue a block away from Bank of America Stadium. That’s where Obama will cap off September’s Democratic National Convention with an acceptance speech to 74,000 people – not counting the millions watching at home.
“The president is going to do everything he can to get North Carolina in his column,” said Romney, who then added this applause line: “That’s not going to be enough because we’re going to win North Carolina.”
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Wednesday’s trip, which also included private fundraisers in Raleigh and Charlotte, was one of Romney’s first forays into this crucial swing state and was billed as a “prebuttal” to the president’s upcoming acceptance speech in Charlotte. Rain kept them from staging the event on the rooftop outside.
Obama, who in 2008 became the first Democrat to carry North Carolina since 1976, is trying hard for a repeat. Besides choosing Charlotte for the party’s convention, he’s been a frequent visitor to the state. An “official event” in Raleigh next Tuesday will be his fifth time here in the last half year.
His campaign never left after 2008, and by week’s end will have 15 field offices in the state, including two in Charlotte.
But Romney tried, during his 15-minute afternoon speech, to convict Obama with his own words, delivered the last time the president gave an acceptance speech, during the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver.
In that speech, for example, Obama said that “we measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage.”
On a host of economic indicators – jobs, startup businesses, the federal deficit, median income, foreclosures, gas prices – Romney charged that Obama had failed to deliver on his promise to rescue the sour economy he inherited.
He also blamed Obama for the loss of about 50,000 jobs in the Tar Heel state since he took office.
“You won’t hear that at his convention,” Romney told his audience. “But you’re going to hear it at ours, I’ll tell you that.”
Romney even made sport of Obama’s use of Greek-like columns on the stage where he delivered his 2008 acceptance speech.
“You’re not going to see President Obama standing beside Greek columns (in Charlotte),” Romney said. “He’s not going to want to remind anybody of Greece because he’s put us on a path to be more like Greece” – a country that had to be bailed out by the European Union because of its unmanageable debt.
But Romney said little about what he would do as president to fix the economy. He also answered no questions from the local and national reporters at Wednesday’s event.
Instead he promised to unite a divided America and promoted his resume as a former CEO and a budget-cutting governor.
“We need someone who’s actually spent time in the private sector,” he said. “I want to bring some of those skills to Washington.”
Nationally, Romney and Obama are locked in a virtual tie, according to the latest Gallup polling. In North Carolina, a survey released last week by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, based in Raleigh, found that Obama was leading Romney, 49 percent to 44 percent.
In a pre-emptive strike prior to Romney’s Charlotte remarks, two of North Carolina’s top congressional Democrats held a conference call with reporters to promote the president’s record – and skewer Romney’s.
While Obama saved an auto industry “on the verge of collapse,” Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said, “Mitt Romney would have let Detroit go bankrupt.” She also pointed to 25 months of growth in private sector employment.
Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte, whose district office is near where Romney spoke, dismissed Romney’s economic plan as “cut and slash our way to prosperity.”
Outside The Roof with a View, the venue where Romney spoke, the Democratic National Committee parked a giant Etch-a-Sketch with the message “Tax Returns?”
Translation: Romney has declined so far to release his tax returns. The former governor’s history of changing his positions on issues took center stage again recently when a campaign aide suggested he could pivot to the general election by shaking away some of his primary campaign comments.
Supporters of Ron Paul, one of Romney’s remaining GOP primary opponents, also picketed outside the event. Inside, a small group of young Latinos shouted, “Veto Romney!” after his speech to protest his repeated pledges to veto the DREAM Act. The legislation would put undocumented immigrants brought here at an early age on a path to legal status if they attended two years of college or served in the U.S. military.
“He’s catering to the Latino community now, but we’re here to say he doesn’t get the Latino vote unless we see some change,” said Moises Serrano.
There to root on Romney was Garret Koehler, 21, a student at Charlotte’s Johnson & Wales University who will be casting his first vote for president in November.
“I see him as a solid leader,” said Koehler, a registered Republican. “He’s the guy we need in there to get rid of our deficit – or at least balance the budget.”
Pat Beck, a 70-year-old retired banker from Charlotte, carried a hand-made sign that read “We’re ‘Wit’ Mitt & Ann,” referring to Romney and his wife.
Asked what she likes about Romney, she answered: “Everything. I don’t care how rich he is. I’m not envious, I’m not jealous, I’m very proud of him. It’s the rich people who have made the rest of us prosperous. Have you even known a poor president?”
Myers Park fundraiser
Romney ended his day in Charlotte – also the country’s second-biggest banking center – with a fundraiser at Myers Park Country Club, where he was expected to raise more than $500,000. The event was co-hosted by former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, who endorsed Obama just after the Wall Street debacle in 2008.
Also sighted at the event closed to the press: Developer Henry Faison, and two GOP 9th District congressional candidates: former state Sen. Robert Pittenger and former Charlotte City Council member Edwin Peacock III. Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the presumptive GOP candidate for N.C. governor, arrived at the front door in a golf cart.
Romney also appeared at a luncheon fundraiser at the Angus Barn in Raleigh, where he raised $550,000. The 360 guests included former U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth.
Rob Christensen of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.