An enormous American flag towered over Carter Machinery's work yard, three big pieces of honey-yellow Caterpillar equipment and nearly 1,500 people Tuesday as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took the stage in Salem, Va.
Romney glanced back at the machines, draped in flags and banners, and said, "Look at those pieces of equipment. I want to see them out there working, I tell you that."
The industrial setting was an appropriate backdrop for what followed: a roughly 20-minute stump speech that focused on the economy, attacked the policies of President Barack Obama and promised to restore America's greatness.
Romney rapped the president on immigration, health care and energy policy, arguing that Obama had botched each of those issues while failing to prioritize a slumping economy and a stubborn unemployment rate that's been stuck above 8percent since 2009.
"The right course for America is to restore those principles that made us such a powerhouse," Romney said. "Economic freedom. Small government. Taking advantage of our natural resources like our coal and oil and gas. Having trade with other nations. Cracking down on those that cheat. Having a level playing field between labor and management. Building infrastructure that makes us more competitive. Those are the things we will do -- I will do if I'm president -- that will get this economy going again."
Virginia is considered a key battleground state in the race for the presidency this fall, and the Romney campaign hopes to boost turnout in the Republican-leaning districts in the state's western regions.
Romney led his speech with a series of attacks on Obama's policies and positions. He criticized the president for failing to take up immigration reform during the first years of his term and instead waiting until earlier this month, when he issued an executive order to stop deporting young immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements.
Romney said the president's failure to act on the issue early in his term led states to pass their own laws, eventually leading to Monday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that has left things in what he called "a bit of a muddle." Romney has listed a series of immigration proposals on his campaign website, but he has not answered whether he would repeal Obama's executive order or what he would do about those immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children.
Romney also took aim at the health care overhaul law, which has been informally dubbed Obamacare, that the president signed into law in 2010. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule Thursday on the constitutionality of the law and particularly its mandate that every individual purchase health insurance.
"If Obamacare is not deemed constitutional, then the first three and a half years of this president's term will have been wasted on something that did not help the American people," Romney said. "If it is deemed to stand, then I'll tell you one thing: We're going to have to have a president -- and I'm that one -- who's going to get rid of Obamacare, and we're going to stop it on Day One."
He also attacked the Obama administration for what he termed "an avalanche of new regulations" on businesses and on industries that mine fossil fuels.
"He's made it harder to mine coal, harder to use coal, harder to get a reliable supply of natural gas, harder to get drilling for oil," Romney said.
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