SALT LAKE CITY — GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney stopped in Utah Tuesday for a few hours of fundraising, collecting about $2 million during what will likely be his last visit to the state before the November election.
Romney told an overflow crowd at a $1,000-a-plate luncheon in the Grand America Hotel ballroom that President Barack Obama supports redistribution, a "government-centered America where government takes more and more and gives to those who believe that they need that help."
He was applauded for saying most Americans "don't believe that the role of government is to try and guide our economy. But instead, government is to get out of the way and let free people pursuing their dreams create the kind of enterprises that put people to work."
Americans, Romney said during a speech that lasted for more than 30 minutes, don't apologize for success. "That's what will get our economy going. We just can't allow America to be a place where it's easier to get a government subsidy than it is to get a job."
His comments come after a video surfaced showing Romney telling big-money donors at a private event in Florida that "there are 47 percent who are with (Obama) who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them."
Former Utah congresswoman Enid Mickelsen, the state's national GOP committeewoman, said while Romney didn't directly reference the video, posted by the San Francisco-based liberal magazine Mother Jones, he still made a similar point in his speech to Utahns.
"That's the message he needs to keep pounding," Mickelsen said. "These are American values."
Democrats saw it differently. Wayne Holland, the former Utah state Democratic Party chairman and regional coordinator for the Obama campaign, slammed Romney's statements on the video.
Holland said in a telephone call arranged by the Democratic National Committee, it was "shocking" that Romney would tell wealthy donors "that half of the American people view themselves as victims and entitled to handouts...he has disdainfully written off half the nation."
Outside the Grand America Hotel nearly two dozen undocumented students protested Romney's opposition to the DREAM Act and simliar proposals to provide opportunities for the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States legally.
"Our voices as undocumented students might be silent, but we can still provide some of our concerns," Janeth Paredes, 19, said. "He hasn’t put a face to immigration, especially undocumented immigration, and that is why we are here."
Paredes said if she had the opportunity to speak to Romney, she would tell him, "My nationality doesn't matter. I am a human being and I was brought here when I was really young and this is the only home that I really know."
Romney, the former head of the 2002 Winter Games, told his Utah audience that Salt Lake is "a city of heroes" for stepping up to volunteer during the Olympics. He also praised 4th District congressional candidate Mia Love as someone "I want to work with in Washington."
At the end of his speech, which also highlighted his jobs creation plan, Romney thanked Utahns for their "extraordinary" financial help with his campaign and then asked that they reach out to voters in the so-called swing states that could go either Republican or Democratic in the presidential race.
"I think I'm probably going to do OK in Utah," he said, noting he usually seeks help getting out the vote at fundraisers in other states. Polls have shown strong support for Romney in Utah, a state that hasn't been won by a Democratic presidential candidate since the 1960s.
Before the luncheon attended by some 1,100 people, Romney met with several dozen supporters who paid $25,000 each to attend a VIP reception. A number of would-be luncheon guests were turned away at the door because the event was oversold.
The $2 million raised in just about two hours is on top of the $4.8 million Utahns have contributed to Romney's campaign since he announced his second presidential bid last June, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission.
His campaign allowed Romney’s airport arrival to be covered by the media, but he did not acknowledge reporters or make any public comment other than greeting members of a Boy Scout troop from Cottonwood Heights who met his plane.
Matthew Spurrier, 16, said Romney asked the Scouts their names and had a few of them recite the Scout Oath. Spurrier said he was nervous but managed to remember the words.
“It was an experience to remember,” Spurrier said. “It was cool.”
Romney’s campaign plane landed at the Executive Terminal at the Salt Lake City International Airport before he headed via motorcade to the Grand America Hotel for the two fundraising events.
While Romney’s Utah supporters had been hoping the candidate would make a public appearance during his brief stop, the campaign decided there wasn’t enough time. He has not held an even open to the public without charge in Utah since June 2011.37 comments on this story
Romney traveled from California to Utah and was scheduled to campaign later Tuesday in Dallas.
The campaign also kicked off a three-day bus tour of the state Tuesday morning, featuring Republican leaders including Love, Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright.
The bus was scheduled to make stops at two of Romney’s four call centers in Utah, in Midvale and Logan, as well as at a Staples office supply store in Layton.
Contributing: Julian Reyes