Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney charged Tuesday that the nation's lagging economy is the product of President Barack Obama's ignorance of business.
Courting votes in Westmoreland County, the Republican presidential candidate drew repeated, enthusiastic cheers as he portrayed the president as an enemy of success, a big government apologist with no appreciation of the ingredients of growth. Mr. Romney said the president is wondering why his initiatives have not produced more progress on unemployment.
"I have the answer for him: Liberal policies don't make good jobs," he said before heading to Pittsburgh for an evening fundraising event at the Duquesne Club, Downtown.
According to the press pool report distributed by the campaign, Mr. Romney arrived at the Duquesne Club shortly after 7 p.m. after attending another fund-raising event "in the Pittsburgh area." More than 300 contributors showed up for the Duquesne Club event, paying $2,500 for the reception, $15,000 for a photo with the candidate and $50,000 for dinner.
Mr. Romney entered the second-floor ballroom with Gov. Tom Corbett. "A lot of times people ask me, 'Can a Republican really win Pennsylvania,' " Mr. Corbett said. "I hate to say it, but, 'duh.' "
Mr. Romney praised the records of GOP governors such as Mr. Corbett, and said: "Forget for a moment party label. Just look at the record of this president. Almost everything he has done has made it harder for job creators to create jobs."
In a speech of about 16 minutes, he told the affluent crowd: "I point out that most of you are going to do just fine, whether I'm elected to not. People at the very high end are going to find a way to do fine. It's the middle class that's going to suffer if this president is re-elected."
On his fourth stop in Western Pennsylvania this year, Mr. Romney spoke earlier in the day to hundreds of fired-up supporters in a building housing Horizontal Wireline Services, a North Huntingdon firm that has thrived with the region's burgeoning natural gas industry in recent years.
Mr. Romney repeated his criticisms of the Obama administration's stimulus initiative and the claim that some of its proceeds were steered to political supporters of the president. "I'm ashamed to say that we're seeing our president hand out money to the businesses of campaign contributors," he said.
In an oblique reference to the Obama campaign's relentless criticism of his role and business practices as chief of the investment firm Bain Capital, he stirred laughter from the partisan crowd as he said: "The president is looking around for someone to blame, and recently I've become the reason for all the problems. I was surprised, my family and me, but he's always looking for someone out there -- ATM machines, tsunamis, China, Europe -- it's always something."
Campaigning in Texas at about the same time, Mr. Obama made clear he was not about to scale back on the attacks on Bain and Mr. Romney.
"He invested -- made money investing -- in companies that had been called 'pioneers' of outsourcing. I don't want pioneers of outsourcing in the White House. I want somebody who believes in insourcing," he told supporters in San Antonio.
Mr. Romney seized on a statement Mr. Obama made on the stump in Virginia last week, when he suggested that business success is tied to community and government support. Quoting the Obama campaign speech, Mr. Romney told the crowd that the president had said, " 'If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.' "
"That somebody else is government, in his view," Mr. Romney charged.
Mr. Romney said the statement denigrated the initiative and creativity of individual businessmen, charging that it was the equivalent of saying Steve Jobs didn't build Apple or Henry Ford, his auto company. "It's insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator," Mr. Romney said, calling the statement, "startling and revealing."
"President Obama attacks success, and therefore, under President Obama, we have less success, and I will change that. Do we believe in an America that's great because of government, or do we believe that government is great because of free people?" he said.
In a subsequent conference call with reporters, Ben LaBolt, the Obama campaign press secretary, contended that the Romney attack twisted the context of the president's observation.
In the Roanoke speech that was the target of the Republican attack, Mr. Obama said that if you were a successful businessperson, "there was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
Earlier, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a Romney campaign spokesman, cited the same Obama speech in delivering a harsher critique of the president. "I wish this president would learn how to be an American," Mr. Sununu said in a conference call with reporters shortly before Mr. Romney began his speech.
Mr. Sununu later stepped back from the criticism, saying in a CNN interview that he had meant to focus his remarks on the president's views on business.
But in a morning Fox television interview, Mr. Sununu used still more pointed language in making a similar attack keyed to the Virginia speech excerpt. "He has no idea how the American system functions," he said. "And we shouldn't be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, and, frankly, when he came to the U.S., he worked as a community organizer, which is a socialized structure, and then got into politics in Chicago."
Outside the building in Irwin where Mr. Romney spoke, Obama campaign aides stood with Randy Johnson, a USW staffer who lost his job after Bain took over Ampad, a firm that later went into bankruptcy. Mr. Johnson joined Mr. LaBolt and David Foster, who was an employee of GST Steel, a steel plant that closed in connection with another Bain investment.
The state AFL-CIO also greeted the Republican visit with a list of Pennsylvania firms and Ampad creditors that received pennies on the dollar when Ampad filed for bankruptcy after Bain had sold its interest in the firm.!--
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Visit post-gazette.com for video coverage of Mitt Romney's campaign appearance.
Politics editor James O'Toole: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1562. First Published July 18, 2012 4:00 AM