DENVER (AP) – Republican Mitt Romney took his presidential ambitions Monday to Colorado — a state where he intends to campaign heavily — and criticized President Barack Obama on the economy and health care as people in a suburban Denver restaurant cheered.
The former Massachusetts governor said Obama “has been a failure for the nation and for Colorado” when it comes to the economy. Romney, who has worked as investment company executive, said his experience working in the private sector makes him more qualified than Obama.
“He’s never had a real job in the private sector. He doesn’t know how jobs are created,” said Romney, using a line he’s repeated in other campaign stops. On health care, Romney said that a plan for one state isn’t necessarily beneficial to another and that states should have more control.
Some Republicans have criticized Romney for championing a health care law in Massachusetts that is similar to Obama’s national health overhaul.
Monday’s Colorado visit was Romney’s first as a presidential candidate. More than three years ago, he easily won the state’s presidential caucuses over the eventual Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said Romney “intends to campaign vigorously” in Colorado, considered a swing state because it’s almost evenly split among Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
“Gov. Romney has a strong network of support (in Colorado) that remains from his 2008 campaign,” Williams said. “It’s a state that we believe will be an important one for us to win.”
During his stop in Colorado, Romney held a private fundraiser and a reception for his presidential exploratory committee in a neighborhood outside Denver. Williams said Romney’s campaign was not disclosing how much money they raised at the event, but an invitation to the fundraiser showed supporters were encouraged to donate anywhere from $250 to $2,500.
At the public event at a restaurant in the Denver suburb or Aurora, Romney sat with about a dozen small business owners at a table spotted with plates of chips, guacamole and salsa. The business owners complained that it was difficult to get loans from banks.
“It kills me what’s been going on in the banking sector,” Romney said. “You could only make a profit if you make a loan, right?”
Monica Wasden, the president of a sports apparel business, said her store is growing but she is having trouble getting loans.
“I’m not asking for a handout,” she said. “I would like a loan.”
Both parties have slammed each other’s economic policies, a trend that continued Monday. The Colorado Democratic Party issued a statement from state Chairman Rick Palacio, saying Romney had a “disastrous record on the economy” during his time as governor of Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Ryan Call, the state Republican Party chairman, blamed Obama for high unemployment rates and said the GOP presidential candidates “must outline a clear plan to foster economic growth and job creation” to win the presidency.
Romney’s campaign said he’s getting support from some leading Republicans in Colorado.
According to the fundraising invitation, former Gov. Bill Owens and former Sen. Hank Brown are serving as honorary co-chairs of Romney’s campaign in Colorado. The Republican honorary hosts of the event include former Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado state treasurer Walker Stapleton, Attorney General John Suthers and former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez.
Stapleton, who defeated incumbent Democratic Treasurer Cary Kennedy, said Romney will have to appeal to voters outside of the main political parties to win.
“You must win independent and swing-voters in Colorado,” he said. “It’s what I had to do.”
President Barack Obama won the state in 2008 — the first time in 16 years that a Democratic presidential candidate had prevailed in Colorado.
Romney has been leading in national polls and is considered the nominal Republican front-runner for the 2012 race. Other Republican candidates include Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who recently stepped down as U.S. ambassador to China, was expected to announce his candidacy Tuesday.
In 2008, Romney was also the clear favorite of Colorado’s Republicans. In the state presidential caucus, Romney won nearly 60 percent of the vote of more than 56,000 Republicans, while McCain had just 19 percent. But Romney suspended his campaign two days later because of primary losses elsewhere.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)