BOWLING GREEN -- President Obama's comment last week that successful business people "didn't build" their own success supplied Mitt Romney with enough material to fill a town-hall meeting here on Wednesday.
Mr. Romney focused much of his remarks on what the President said at a campaign event in Roanoke, Va., on Friday.
The presumptive Republican nominee said Mr. Obama believes government is the reason businesses succeed and jobs are created.
"He tries to divide America, tear America apart. He tries to diminish those who've been successful. It's simply wrong," Mr. Romney told a strongly supportive audience of several hundred inside the Bowling Green Community Center, a city-owned gym the Romney campaign rented for two days.
In trying to make the case to repeal tax cuts on wealthy people, Mr. Obama said Friday, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that; somebody else made it happen."
Republicans pounced on the remark.
Mr. Romney spoke to the town-hall gathering and took questions for about 45 minutes after attending a fund-raiser in Toledo where he reportedly garnered about $600,000 in political contributions for his campaign.
- Photos: Mitt Romney speaks in Bowling Green
- Romney's Toledo fund-raiser attracts pickets
- Photos: Toledo Club protesters
At one point, he had to tamp down the anti-Obama enthusiasm of one supporter.
Kathleen Zaper of Maumee blamed President Obama for the economy she said is hurting her son's apparel business. "Now he has to lay off people, all because of what this monster has done," she said, as people laughed and started to applaud.
Mr. Romney replied, "That's not a term I would use," but told her, "You have every right to be angry."
Ms. Zaper's son, Doug Zaper, 45, a Bowsher High School graduate, opened his own chain of women's fashion accessories called Jule, based in Columbus.
Ms. Zaper said later she blames Mr. Obama for the economy, rather than ex-President George W. Bush, during whose term the recession began. "Everything was fine under Bush," Ms. Zaper said, saying her son may have to close four stores. "He is the epitome of what this President can't get. He is a risk-taker. This is what Obama doesn't get and it burns me up that people don't call him on it, and I did."
Mr. Romney's handling of the negative comment contrasted with a town-hall event near Cleveland in May when he didn't disagree with a woman who said Mr. Obama "should be tried for treason." Under criticism, Mr. Romney later said he did not agree with the woman.
The GOP contender hinted at what to expect in his vice-presidential running mate: "That person will be a conservative; they will believe in conservative principles," he said.
He offered a view of what America will look like after eight years of a Romney presidency.
"Eight years out, we're going to have a balanced budget, we're going to have a court that believes in following the Constitution. We're going to have the world surprised at how dramatic America's comeback was. We're going to see North America almost at the point of being energy independent," he said.
Mr. Romney also pointed to a report about inactivity by the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which met three times last year. "When people needed good jobs, what's [President Obama] been doing over the last six months? He has held 100 fund-raisers. And guess how many meetings he's had with his jobs council -- none, zero. His priority is not creating jobs for you. His priority is trying to keep his own job and that's why he's going to lose it," he said.
Business owners touted
Mr. Romney invited the business owners in the crowd to stand.
"I know a lot of people helped you in business, perhaps the banks, investors, no question your mom and dad, schoolteachers, the people who build roads. There are a lot of people in government who help us, we all recognize that. But don't forget government doesn't create those people out of thin air, we pay for those people out of our taxes," he said.
Democrats have protested Mr. Obama wasn't saying business owners owe their success to the government, but that they succeed because of the help of society, the infrastructure, and the education system provided by the community. Mr. Obama cited fighting fires, the G.I. Bill, the Internet, and landing a man on the moon as examples of achievements made collectively.
Lis Smith, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said, "There are critical actions we must take to support businesses and encourage new ones -- that means we need the best infrastructure, a good education system, and affordable, domestic sources of clean energy. Those are investments we make not as individuals, but as Americans, and our nation benefits from them. Apparently Mitt Romney disagrees."
And she said Mr. Obama's proposed jobs plan incorporates ideas from the Jobs Council and would put up to 1 million people back to work.
"But Mitt Romney opposes it and refuses to offer one of his own. America can't afford to go back to the same policies that crashed our economy in the first place -- massive tax cuts for the wealthiest on the middle class's dime and repealing Wall Street reform," Ms. Smith said.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich introduced Mr. Romney in Bowling Green as someone who faced the same attacks on his private sector background as he did.
"They spent all their time trying to smear me because I worked in business, and you know why? Because they had nothing to sell themselves. Now they are releasing one smear attack after another because Mitt Romney was in business and they've got nothing to sell," Mr. Kasich said.
He managed to support Mr. Romney's criticism of economic policy under Mr. Obama while avoiding trash-talking Ohio's business climate. "Every day I have the wind at my back in Ohio, but coming out of Washington is this big gale that puts the wind in my face. It hurts us with the greatest moral issue of the day, which is the creation of jobs," Mr. Kasich said.
One of Mr. Romney's supporters in Bowling Green was Judy Journay, who said she grew her business, JJ Custom Apparel, a screen printing and embroidery business in Bellevue, Ohio, for 19 years without the government's help.
"The government didn't give me anything to start my business. They didn't give me any loans. We worked day and night to get it started," she said, claiming she will not hire new workers until she knows the future of the health-care law and tax policies.
Paul Meier of Bowling Green pointed to Mr. Romney's business experience as the basis of his support. "I figure he can probably create jobs and reduce unemployment and government restrictions on our lives," Mr. Meier said.
A mile from where Mr. Romney spoke, members of the United Steelworkers Local 1042 held a news conference, labeling Mr. Romney as a would-be "outsourcer in chief."
"Romney was heavily involved in outsourcing. He cost thousands of jobs. He's using his business experience as a qualification to be president, but in fact it's the opposite," said Mike Gillis, Ohio spokesman for the American Federation of Labor. The Obama campaign is airing commercials accusing the business Mr. Romney formerly headed, Bain Capital, of encouraging outsourcing. Mr. Romney's campaign has demanded the claim be retracted, which Mr. Obama's campaign has refused to do.
The liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org hired an airplane to fly over Bowling Green towing a banner reading, that read "Tricky Mitt: What are you hiding?"
Spokesman Nick Berning said the banner referred to Mr. Romney's refusal to disclose more than one year of his personal tax returns.
The issue of outsourcing hit especially close to home for Melinda Spoores, a Local 24 member who worked at the Modine Manufacturing plant in Pemberville for 27 years and who was at the steelworkers' hall. She said she lost her job in October, 2009, when the plant that made automobile heating and cooling systems shut down. She is now attending college under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.
"You know, he says he didn't outsource, but I just can't believe him," she said. "He's not owning up to what he really did."
More visits to Ohio ahead
Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are stepping up visits to Ohio, a key state. Romney surrogates were in Ohio on Wednesday, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in Columbus and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in Hamilton.
President Obama was in Cincinnati on Monday, and Vice President Joe Biden is due in Columbus today.
Mr. Romney's visit comes as his campaign released a television ad accusing the President of using the 2009 stimulus to pay back political supporters and to grow jobs in other countries. The ad is the first Romney campaign commercial to appear in the Toledo media market.
The Obama campaign also released a new ad Wednesday in Ohio. The ad attacks Mr. Romney for having interests in foreign tax havens and not releasing more tax returns.
Staff writer Jessie Shor contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.41.37477 -83.65132
Hundreds turn out for Republican's town-hall meeting in Bowling Green.