SALT LAKE CITY — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama's economic policies Friday at campaign stops in his one-time home state of Utah.
"Gasoline is too expensive, food's too expensive, there's too many people out of work, and there's nothing to be proud of in Barak Obama's economic policies," Romney said from the back of a bright red pickup outside a popular Salt Lake City drive-in restaurant. "My policies will get American back to work and let America lead the world as it has in the past."
Romney's stop at the locally owned Hires Big H was his first public appearance in heavily Republican Utah since he announced his bid for nomination. The event drew about 200 supporters and was bookended by a pair of private fundraisers, including a $1,000-a-plate luncheon at a private home in Orem and a $2,500 per-person reception at a downtown Salt Lake City. It wasn't clear Friday how much money Romney had raised during his swing through the state.
This is Romney's second bid for the GOP nomination. He's currently considered the front-runner in a primary field that includes former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
Romney said that by the end of Obama's first term, he will have racked up more debt than all previous U.S. presidents combined — a remark that drew loud booing from the crowd.
"He has spent too much money, he has borrowed too much money ... he's put in place the greatest takeover of state's rights with his Obamacare, which we're gonna repeal and reverse," said Romney, with his wife of 42 years, Ann, by his side.
Merle and Robert Fullmer, republicans from Midvale, waited about an hour in the hot sun to see the candidate. They said they think Romney, who like the couple is a member of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can tackle the nation's economic and foreign policy problems.
"He seems to have integrity and he seems to have the right experience at this particular time in politics," said Robert Fullmer, 78.
A registered Democrat, Anne Ryan, of Portland, Ore., interrupted her Utah visit to bring her husband and two teenage sons to the rally.
"I am a Mitt fan. I've followed his campaign for a long time ... and also this is just such an experience for my son to come see a campaign event," said the 43-year-old, who is also a Mormon.
Ryan, a former computer systems engineer, said it was Romney's performances as Massachusetts' governor and head of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City that drew her interest and support.
After the rally, Romney munched on a cheeseburger and talked with local small-business owners and state government leaders about their concerns, including taxes, health insurance costs, entitlement programs and energy policy.