SALEM, Va. — Previewing his response to this week’s expected decision on the nation’s healthcare law, Mitt Romney told supporters in southwestern Virginia on Tuesday that healthcare is a matter of “states’ rights” and “personal responsibility” and that he’d block the federal plan if the Supreme Court doesn’t.
Romney, whose individual health insurance mandate in Massachusetts was a model for the provision at the heart of the current debate, said that if the court strikes down the federal law later this week, “then the first three-and-a-half years of this president’s term will have been wasted on something that has not helped the American people.”
Alternately, if the justices uphold the law, “we’re going to need a president--and I’m that one--that’s going to get rid of Obamacare. We’re going to stop it on day one,” the Republican presidential candidate told several hundred cheering supporters in the sun-drenched parking lot of a construction machinery company.
“I’m going to get rid of the cloud of Obamacare and get us back to personal responsibility and states’ rights as it relates to health care,” said Romney, who has defended the plan he imposed in Massachusetts but has also said that states, and not the federal government, should regulate healthcare coverage.
After a morning fundraising event and private meeting with local business executives, Romney’s outdoor rally was his only public appearance during an overnight visit to the Roanoke area, the most populous part of largely rural southwest Virginia.
With giant earth-moving equipment and a huge American flag as backdrops, Romney also made his first public comments on Monday’s Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s tough immigration-enforcement statute, which he strongly supported during the GOP presidential primaries.
The remarks largely tracked a statement he made at a private fund-raising event in Arizona on Monday. After the court allowed one portion of the statute to stand and outlawed the rest, he said, “what we’re left with is a bit of a muddle. But what we know is the president failed to lead,” by not pushing for an immigration overhaul early in his presidency as he promised in the 2008 campaign.
Romney also repeatedly criticized Obama for policies that, he said, have penalized coal companies like those in the extreme southwestern corner of Virginia, home to the state’s mining industry. Some of those in the crowd of several hundred sported t-shirts and signs distributed by the coal industry—and the company that played host to the event, Carter Machinery Co., Inc., sells mining equipment.
According to government records, the firm also was a beneficiary of the Obama stimulus program, which Romney criticized during his 20-minute speech for adding $787 billion to the federal debt. Carter Machinery received $368,000 in 2010 as a subcontractor on an upgrade project on the NOAA Ship Oregon II, a vessel used for fishery and marine research.
The Obama campaign used Romney’s appearance to attack what it called “a developing pattern where Romney visits businesses that benefited from the Recovery Act to bash the Recovery Act.” Asked for a response, the Romney campaign referred a reporter to a statement from Carter Machinery CEO Jim Parker, a Romney supporter, who told the Roanoke Times that when his company is paid for government work “we do not know the source of these funds” and “has never received direct stimulus funding.”
Virginia is one of several states governed by Republicans where Romney’s message of reversing U.S. economic decline has clashed with above average recoveries from the recession. The jobless rate in the Roanoke area, 5.8 percent, is more than two percentage points below the national average. The area is currently benefiting from a sharp fall in the cost of gasoline, with pump prices of $2.96 near the site of the Romney rally.
The Virginia campaign stop was the first of two Romney scheduled this week in a state considered crucial to his chances. In 2008, Obama became the first Democrat in more than 40 years to carry Virginia, and a repeat would make it extremely difficult for Romney to win the presidency.
Key to Romney’s hopes will be improving on 2008 nominee John McCain’s showing among white voters, to help counter the state’s burgeoning minority population, which strongly supports Obama, as well as an influx of Democratic-leaning independents in the Washington suburbs.
Southwest Virginia, which more than 90 percent white, is an essential element of Romney’s Virginia strategy, though it represents less than one-tenth of the state’s electorate.
On Wednesday, the former governor will return to Virginia for an event in Loudon County, a Washington exurb that ranks as one of the most vital battlegrounds in the country this fall. Four years ago, Obama carried the swath of counties outside Washington, including the outer suburbs, which have yet to recover fully from the housing bust. Those counties flipped back to the Republicans in state elections over the last three years, as the GOP recaptured the governorship and grew their ranks to new highs in the state legislature.
Romney and the Republican Party, who benefited jointly from the fund-raising event he held in Roanoke, are depending on a voter-contact program that helped generate those recent victories to combat an intensive organizing effort by the Obama campaign, which never really left the state.