Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said during an appearance in Cleveland on Friday evening that he would rely on America's entrepreneurial spirit -- not government guidance -- to reinvigorate the national economy.
Speaking before a crowd of roughly 300 people at Cleveland State University's Cole Center just days before Ohio's primary election, Mr. Romney focused his criticism on President Obama, giving the event a general-election feel.
The former Massachusetts governor accused Mr. Obama of failing to follow through on promises to cut the deficit, reduce unemployment, lower taxes, and take China to task for manipulating its currency.
"If I am president of the United States, I'm going to cut government spending, cap it, and finally balance the budget," he said, later adding, "I will lower taxes to create more jobs."
Near the beginning of his 20-minute speech, Mr. Romney named several entrepreneurs he met on the campaign trail and called their innovative spirit an inspiration.
"It is not a government telling us what to do and how we should do it," he said. "Their success does not make us worse off, it makes us better."
He said he would repeal Mr. Obama's health-care law and reduce regulations the President has enacted during his first three years in office. Those actions represent a basic philosophical difference between himself and Mr. Obama, he said.
"I don't think he trusts us to make the right decisions for ourselves," he said.
He presented a hawkish plan to increase U.S. military might, promising to boost the number of aircraft and naval vessels in the nation's arsenal. He said he would also add 100,000 more active-duty troops.
His speech came on the same day that a new poll suggested his chief GOP rival, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, has lost ground in the Buckeye State.
Mr. Santorum had a clear lead in polls released earlier this week, but the latest survey shows that Mr. Romney has closed that gap. A new Quinnipac poll released Friday has Mr. Santorum ahead of Mr. Romney 35 to 31 percent, which is within the survey's margin of error.
A similar pattern occurred in Michigan during the lead up to last week's primary there, where Mr. Romney won a majority of the popular vote.
In what may be an indication of renewed confidence, Mr. Romney devoted only a small amount of his speech Friday to his primary opponents, pointing out that they've worked mostly as politicians or lobbyists in Washington.
"If you want to get the economy fixed and create jobs, I think it helps if you've had a job," he said. "I have."
Mr. Romney did not address the Santorum campaign's request Friday that the national Republican party investigate the Michigan GOP's decision to award Mr. Romney both of its at-large delegates in that state's primary.
After the speech, Tom Bieniosek, a 59-year-old steel worker from Litchfield, Ohio, said Mr. Romney's speech made him enthusiastic. It was a sentiment shared by many in the crowd, which at times broke into spontaneous chants of "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt."
"The tenor of his speech was positive," Mr. Bieniosek said.
The event was supposed to include an appearance by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but he had to cancel because of bad weather, Mr. Romney said.
Instead, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, who represents Ohio's 16th Congressional District, provided an introduction.
"As the first Ohio congressman to endorse the governor, I said we need someone who understands … what it means to get the economy going again," Mr. Renacci said.
Mr. Romney's wife, Ann, also joined him on stage, calling her husband a "turnaround guy."
Carol Bannon, 55, of Concord, Ohio, said after the speech that she plans to vote for Mr. Romney. Her husband works in manufacturing, she said, and Mr. Romney's plans "will definitely help."
The battle for Ohio will continue over the weekend. After spending the night in Cleveland, Mr. Romney will join Mr. Santorum and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a Fox News taping Saturday in Wilmington, Ohio. Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich will then head north for a GOP dinner at Bowling Green State University on Saturday night. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has yet to make an Ohio campaign appearance.
Ohio's primary is Tuesday. It's one of several Super Tuesday states that will vote that day.
Contact Tony Cook at: email@example.com or 419-724-6065.