PASCAGOULA, Miss. -- Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made his first appearance here Thursday ahead of Mississippi's Tuesday primary election, and attacked President Barack Obama for not creating jobs or working on the deficit. He said Washington could learn from the Magnolia State on those issues.
Romney was joined by Gov. Phil Bryant, who endorsed the former Massachusetts governor's candidacy Thursday at a campaign stop at the Port of Pascagoula.GOP candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will make appearances in Mississippi over the next few days.
Romney was met by about 200 supporters there, where he talked job creation, cutting taxes, reducing the deficit and eliminating government waste. He said Obama hasn't addressed those issues in his first four years in office, but he believes Mississippi has.
"If the federal government were run more like the government here in Mississippi, the whole country would be a lot better off," Romney said.
Romney, who has been criticized as out of touch with the average American because of his wealth, was clad in blue jeans and a white button-down shirt. In recent days on the campaign trial, he has faced some skepticism in the South about whether he's as conservative as most GOP voters here, and there have been some questions about whether Southern evangelicals would back a candidate of the Mormon faith. But he brushed off those questions Thursday and didn't take questions from local reporters.
He spent his 10 minutes at the lectern pounding home the GOP message of smaller government, and talking about improving the economy, while taking shots at Obama.
He said years ago, his father-in-law made ship parts in Michigan and came to Pascagoula regularly to sell to suppliers in South Mississippi. He said today, many Americans are struggling because of lost jobs, fewer work prospects, poor education and other issues, which he believes the president hasn't addressed.
"A lot of people are hurting right now and I look back and wonder how that could be, because when President Obama was candidate Obama, he made a lot of promises," Romney said. "He said that if we would let him run this country, he'd heal the world and all these wonderful things, and that he was the one we were waiting for. He was going to cut the budget deficit in half. He's doubled it. When he became president, he wanted $700 billion. He said if he got the money, he would keep unemployment below 8 percent. It hasn't been below 8 percent since. This guy had a lot of things to say. He hasn't delivered."
He said Obama had run on the promise of creating more jobs and fixing the economy, but hasn't and rather has blamed congressional Republicans for stalling his agenda. Romney said Obama had a Democrat-controlled Congress for his first two years in office.
"He could have done anything he wanted to," Romney said. "He's out of ideas, he is out of excuses and in 2012, we are going to make sure he is out of office."
He believes Obama should change his campaign slogan this year.
"We've gone from 'yes we can' (in 2008) to 'it's not my fault.' It's not my fault is his new campaign slogan," Romney said.
The candidate offered several plans. He promised to fight any tax increases, and cut the marginal tax rate "20 percent across the board for all Americans." He said he would also work on lowering gas prices by promoting pipeline projects, and "start drilling again offshore." Increased military spending is also on Romney's agenda, including adding shipbuilding projects, more aircraft, bringing in 100,000 new active-duty personnel and improving veterans' benefits.
"I happen to think that a strong America is the best ally peace has ever known," he said.
He painted a picture of a country at a crossroads, and tried to rally conservatives to head to the polls to prevent what he said was a country headed toward a more liberal, larger government that spends more.
"This is a choice for America," Romney said. "This campaign is about whether America becomes more and more liberal and looks more and more like Europe with a government that tells us how to live our lives, or instead we remain a free and prosperous nation that returns to the principles that made America America."
Bryant, speaking to reporters after Romney's speech, addressed the candidate's comment about lessons from Mississippi, which had set Twitter abuzz during the speech. He said he believes Romney wants Washington to learn lessons about cutting taxes, balancing the budget and preventing waste and fraud, issues the first-term governor said he has worked on since holding statewide office.
"I think we have cut taxes six times since I was lieutenant governor, that is the first thing he realizes," Bryant said. "He understands we have a balanced budget. We constitutionally have to do that every year. I think he understands the accountability and talked about my background as state auditor. If you look at the waste, fraud and abuse in Washington, he's saying if we can cut back on that, we would have real money to spend on things we need. He also understands this is one of the most patriotic states in the nation and we support our military, and that's what we need to do on a national level."
Bryant told the crowd he believed like the Coast after Hurricane Katrina, the nation could get back up from tough economic times. He said he believes Romney is the man who can make the country the "shining city upon a hill" former President Ronald Reagan talked about.
At the event Thursday, many South Mississippi and state political figures were on hand, including State Auditor Stacey Pickering, who is heavily involved in Romney's Mississippi efforts; Harrison County Supervisor Windy Swetman; and various local business and community leaders and political consultants.
Romney supporter Carla Castorina of Hurley held a sign saying, "hey, y'all, this Southern, female, Christian conservative Navy mom believes in America and supports Mitt." Romney signed it for her, and she proudly showed it off after the speech.
"I am just pleased he felt the need to come down here and speak to us directly," Castorina said. "We don't often get that kind of attention along the Coast here. It was good to see him and shake his hand and see what he had to say."
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