Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, accompanied by his wife… (Steven Senne / Associated…)
Reporting from Springfield, Ill. —
With signs the country is emerging from its economic slump, Mitt Romney has begun to blame President Obama for making it far worse than it would have been under a Romney presidency.
“I believe the economy’s coming back, by the way,” he said on Monday. “We’ll see what happens. It’s had ups and downs. I think it’s finally coming back. The economy always comes back after recession, of course. There’s never been one that we didn’t recover from.”
But Romney continued: “The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been by virtue of the policies of this president. Almost everything he’s done has made it harder for this economy to recover and that’s from Obamacare to a failed stimulus to massive deficits to Dodd-Frank. The list goes on and on.”
Romney stuck to his theme that he is the only businessman in the Republican presidential race and the only one who can undo the economic damage he believes President Obama has inflicted. “I have the experience of leading and guiding enterprises,” said Romney, who made millions of dollars as the head of a private equity firm.
Ahead in the Illinois polls a day before a primary with 54 delegates at stake, Romney did not veer from his standard pitch at a sunrise campaign stop at a breakfast joint in a Quonset hut, except to remark several times on the enormity of the pancakes.
“These pancakes are something else, I’ll tell you,” Romney marveled as he pointed out the 16-inch behemoths. “These pancakes are as large as my win in Puerto Rico last night.”
Romney spoke briefly to more than 70 people seated at booths, tables and the counter, including one self-described liberal, whom the former Massachusetts governor embraced. An overflow crowd of dozens waited more than two hours in the darkness to hear Romney. The restaurant, Charlie Parker’s Diner, was decorated with an eclectic collection of old records, album covers, posters and gas station signs. It’s known for its pizza-sized pancakes.
John Johnson, a 58-year-old trucker, came to hear Romney speak after he finished work at about 4:30 a.m. It was a two-fer. He’d never been to the restaurant, which has been around about two decades, and never seen Romney. He’s torn between Romney and Newt Gingrich.
“Newt, to me, has real debate skills, but I don’t know. There’s a lot of baggage he’s got, too,” he said. After listening to Romney speak, he was still not certain. He said he was “real close, real close” to supporting him, but said, “I’ve got to think just a little bit more.”
Michael Sneed, 32, who works for the state and is a Republican activist, said he believes Romney is the best choice to defeat Obama because of his business experience. He thinks Gingrich, the former House speaker, or Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, would make fine vice presidential choices, but wants a nominee who is a Washington outsider.
“Speaker Gingrich and Senator Santorum were there for years and years and years. They probably still have IOUs to pay up,” he said.
Sneed was also drawn to Romney because of his experience as a Republican governor in Massachusetts. “He ran a blue state. I think it shows he can cross the aisle,” he said. “I think that’s what our problem is. We’ve got too many people pulling the rope from both sides.”
He said he met George W. Bush and John McCain and hoped to keep his streak going. And he did. Romney, drawn to him by his half-eaten enormous pancake, shook his hand.
Romney, wearing a white dress shirt with narrow stripes and jeans, spotted the oversized pancakes as soon as he and his wife, Ann, walked into the small diner. “Now, that is something else,” he exclaimed. “Is this standard fare?” Ann Romney asked.
His advance team had set up a roped off area with a little slot that he could walk into and deliver his speech. “This looks like a cattle chute here,” Romney quipped, perhaps aware of his need to build support among the state’s rural Republican voters.
Romney accused Obama of building a government so large and a debt so “unthinkable” that it was crushing the innovative, creative spirit that has characterized American business.