Mitt Romney and Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford serve pancakes… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)
Reporting from Moline, Ill. —
After serving pancakes from a metal bin, Mitt Romney told supporters at an American Legion hall that President Obama was "an economic lightweight" and it was time to replace him with "an economic heavyweight." "I am," he said, "and I'll get that job done."
Romney, standing on a riser before a "Believe In America" banner, derided the president, a former law professor, as a politician with no actual experience in the economy.
"You see, the president learned about the economy by reading about it, not by living it," said the front-runner in the Republican presidential contests. "He learned about the economy by probably debating it in subcommittees here in Illinois and subcommittees back in D.C. I learned about the economy by living in it."
Although the economy has turned around, the stock market has climbed and unemployment has dropped, Romney insisted that Obama had failed. "The American people are struggling. This president doesn't understand the economy," he said. "He's an economic lightweight, and he's made decisions that have hurt the American people."
Romney told more than 120 people, munching on free pancakes under bright fluorescent lights, that he was the only candidate with real-world experience. He did not discuss his work at a private equity firm, which made him tremendously wealthy, in any detail.
"Twenty-five years in business taught me how jobs come and how they go, what it takes to bring jobs to this country, why they go to other places like China and Brazil, what we have to do to make America more attractive, not because I've read it somewhere, but because I've experienced it," said Romney, who is also a former governor of Massachusetts.
Romney then swiveled from Obama to his three Republican opponents. He called them "good fellows," but he said that they suffer the same deficit of economic understanding as the president. "I'm convinced that America is going to have the best chance of replacing an economic lightweight, if we nominate an economic heavyweight," he said.
But Romney took specific aim only at Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and his leading challenger. "Sen. Santorum has the same economic lightweight background the president has," he said, criticizing him for voting to raise the debt ceiling and increase federal spending, as well as touting the federal money he got for a polar bear exhibit.
"I mean, I'm sure polar bears need a nice place to live," he cracked, "but I just don't think we should be borrowing money from other nations to do things that are not absolutely essential."
Romney is courting Illinois voters ahead of the state's Tuesday primary, which will influence how the state's 69 delegates are awarded. Polls have shown him with a single-digit advantage over Santorum.
Romney, in a white windowpane-checked shirt and jeans, worked the crowd before speaking, using a pair of tongs to awkwardly drop extra pancakes on the plates of supporters.
Sandy Mason and her husband, Richard, sat at the table in the front. The pancakes and coffee were a bonus, Sandy said, explaining that she would have come anyway. She said she was a strong Romney supporter from the start because of his business experience.
"He's been so successful. I think he can get the country jobs," the 72-year-old retired nurse said, explaining that it was time to give the White House job to a "Washington outsider."
But, she also said was voting for Romney because she wants the extended primary season to come to an end. "My whole thing now is, it's time for the Republicans to unite around one candidate," she said. "We need to take our resources now and campaign against Obama."
Her husband, Richard, 81, a retired engineer, started out as a Santorum supporter. He still likes him, but said he agreed with his wife. "It's time we get behind one candidate," he said.
Romney also continued his attack on Obama for rising gas prices. Repeating a charge he made Saturday, he blamed the high prices, in part, on the "gas-hike trio," Obama's appointees to the Energy and Interior departments, and the Environmental Protection Agency. He accused the administration of taking deliberate steps to raise gas prices.
"This gas-hike trio has got to resign or get fired. We've got to get them out," he said. "These policies of the president are so out of touch with the American people."
Mitt Romney continues 'economic lightweight' attack in Illinois