Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is escorted by business leader Jim… (Ross D. Franklin / Associated…)
Reporting from Tucson, Ariz. — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney seized on Wednesday's news that the income of the average American family has declined to what it was in 1996 to argue that President Obama has proven himself unable to fix the nation's economy.
"That is an indication of failure and the policies of this president have not worked," Romney told a few dozen business leaders at an economic roundtable at a car dealership. "The economy was in trouble when he became president. Everything he did, almost without exception, made things worse. His policies have failed."
Romney was referring to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday that the average American family's income had declined for the third year in a row, to 1996 levels when adjusted for inflation.
Romney asked the gathered businessmen and women to share their concerns, which ranged from onerous regulations that created uncertainty, the rising cost of healthcare and the tax code. Romney reiterated his positions, arguing that regulatory relief, an overhaul of the tax code and a change in how consumers purchase health insurance were key to fixing the nation's economy.
He argued that the president's $447-billion jobs proposal would not help.
"We keep thinking a little stimulus will get things going. What's wrong in America right now cannot be cured by a little cup of gasoline on the fire," Romney said. "We need to fundamentally reshape the foundation of our economy and its relationship with government so businesses are once again and individuals are once again incentivized to invest in America."
He predicted that Obama would be a one-term president, and said he would probably replace him.
"There's a good shot I can be in the White House some day," Romney said.
During the hourlong event there was one moment of awkwardness. Romney paused to take a question from Mel Zuckerman, the cofounder of the posh Canyon Ranch spa, and said, "How's business? You are at Canyon Ranch. Things can't be too bad at Canyon Ranch."
"We've been dramatically impacted by the recession," Zuckerman said, as Romney interrupted to apologize. "Much more than you would think. There is a very negative feeling among the population in this country and there's a great deal more fear than I've ever experienced in the many decades I've lived."
Romney was to speak at a gated "active adults" community outside Phoenix on Wednesday afternoon, and attend a fundraiser in the evening.
He was not the only candidate in Arizona. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) had dinner Tuesday night with Cindy McCain, wife of 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, met with controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Wednesday, and planned to host an evening fundraiser.