Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaking like a front-runner, aimed his barbs Friday at President Barack Obama and only acknowledged he was among eight GOP contenders when a member of his audience raised the topic.
Romney received an enthusiastic reception from Oklahoma Republicans, and fired up the crowd when he said another four years of an Obama administration would be harmful to America. Obama failed to win a single one of Oklahoma's 77 counties in 2008.
“Governor, welcome to the reddest state in the country,” Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt Pinnell told Romney.
“You guys are smarter than the rest of the country,” Romney said. “You saw something that I don't think the rest of the nation saw.”
Romney, 64, focused criticism on the Democratic president, saying Obama's policies and regulations are crippling the country's economy. He said the president's proposed jobs bill is lacking and is nothing more than another federal stimulus package.
“I'm convinced that if we keep the current president he will put us on a course that will weaken America militarily, economically and from the standpoint of our fundamental values,” he said.
Romney several times said he loved America whereas Obama and his administration don't seem to understand what made America a great nation.
“That's why this president is going to be a one-term president,” Romney said.
About 175 people attended the rally for Romney at the Jim Thorpe Association and Sports Hall of Fame, 4040 N Lincoln Blvd. Those attending paid $20.12 each, with the money going to the Oklahoma Republican Party.
Two hours earlier, about 120 people paid $500 to $2,500 a ticket to attend a fundraising dinner for the Republican candidate.
More than $200,000 was raised for the Romney campaign, said Ryan Leonard, finance chairman for Romney's campaign in Oklahoma.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and business entrepreneur, said he would immediately roll back the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent to help make American companies more competitive in the global market.
He also pledged to work to help the plight of America's middle class, saying he would remove any tax burden on their savings.
Romney drew applause when he said he would back an immigration policy “that supports legal immigration and will stop illegal immigration.”
He also pledged to work on reducing the country's escalating deficit. People won't invest in a country that spends more money than it takes in, he said.
Romney, who finished third in Oklahoma's Republican presidential primary in 2008, didn't mention any of the other GOP contenders vying for their party's nomination. Asked whether the Republican contenders, who have engaged in several testy debates, could rally behind the eventual GOP nominee, he said, “Any person on that stage would do a better job than President Barack Obama.”
Obama has created more economic uncertainty, which makes it difficult for businesses to expand and offer more jobs and for financial institutions to lend money, he said.
“We want certainty that believes in and will support American values and ideals, and I do and I will get that done,” Romney said.
The president, he said, is using a European approach to dealing with America's sputtering economy.
“I don't think Europe is working in Europe,” he said. “I sure as heck don't think it will work here. I believe in America.”
Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins was among about 75 demonstrators who protested Romney's appearance, which was across the street from state Democratic Party headquarters.
“We already knew that Governor Mitt Romney has a dismal jobs record, with Massachusetts finishing 47th out of 50 in job creation under his watch,” Collins said in a statement. “But during this week's Republican debate in Las Vegas, we got a glimpse into how Romney tells right apart from wrong. He didn't object to having undocumented workers working for him because it's illegal — he objected because he thought it would hurt his political career.”
During the debate, an issue brought up during Romney's 2008 campaign — that he had hired a contractor that employed undocumented workers to work on his lawn — resurfaced. Romney fired the company when he found out about the undocumented workers
Before Romney's public appearance, Collins led demonstrators with the chant, “We want Romney care!” as Republicans arrived.
“We want Mitt Romney to know that if it's good enough for Massachusetts, it's good enough for the United States,” Collins said.
Romney has pledged to repeal the federal health care law, which was pushed by Obama and is similar to the one Romney signed into law in Massachusetts in 2006. Romney has said he would allow states to develop their own plans.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Romney made more visits to Oklahoma as a candidate than any other Republican.
Bill Price, a former Oklahoma delegate to the Republican National Convention and GOP gubernatorial candidate, said he's supporting Romney because he's experienced and articulate.
“He's the only guy that can beat Obama,” Price said.
Romney will do much better in Oklahoma's presidential preferential primary in March, he said.
“They know him better and the field has changed,” Price said.
Greg Moyer, of Broken Arrow, said he is undecided. He's watched the GOP presidential debates and he thought Friday's appearance by Romney would be an excellent chance to observe a candidate in person. His son, Johnny, 23, of Moore, attended with him.
“He's probably the closest one on top of the ladder for me,” Moyer said. “It's just great to come with my son just to see what could be the next president of the United States.”