ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lashed out at President Barack Obama's economic policies Thursday, accusing the president of not understanding the economy and saying Obama is spending time on self-serving pursuits when he should be putting Americans back to work.
Avoiding any mention of his fellow Republican presidential candidates, Romney said he was coming to collect on Obama's 2009 statement that if he hadn't turned the economy around during his first three years in office, he'd face becoming a one-term president.
"The president's a nice guy, and I know he's trying, but he doesn't understand how the economy works," said Romney, a businessman who has spent recent weeks trying to steer the conversation away from his Massachusetts health care plan that his Republican challengers have said mirrors the Obama plan they seek to repeal.
Romney spoke to reporters outside a now closed Allentown factory that Obama visited in December 2009 while promoting his economic stimulus and job-creating measures. The factory was shuttered the next month, leaving about a dozen workers unemployed.
"It survived the Great Depression," Romney said. "It couldn't survive the Obama economy."
The Romney campaign also released a video Thursday contrasting footage of Obama touting the factory with a local newscast on the closing.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski responded by accusing Romney of exploiting the misfortune of unemployed workers for his own political gain, and said Romney was in a poor position to point fingers.
"Under Mitt Romney, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 in job growth and manufacturing jobs declined twice as fast as the national rate," Pawlowski, a Democrat, said in a statement. "Allentown does not need Romney's failed economic approach."
Despite holding his own fundraisers during his Pennsylvania trip — apparently his first visit to the state — Romney took the president to task for not focusing exclusively on lowering the unemployment rate.
"The president's time has been focused on playing golf and campaigning," Romney said.
Obama was in Philadelphia Thursday for two Democratic fundraisers. He played a high-profile golf game Saturday with House Speaker John Boehner — but that was billed as a chance for them to bridge differences over raising the debt ceiling.
Romney, whose early front-runner status was attributed partially to his ability to raise high dollar amounts and self-fund his candidacy, worked to counter that image Thursday by portraying himself as the financial underdog.
"He's going to raise a billion dollars?" Romney said of Obama. "We're not going to raise anywhere near that kind of money."
Those remarks came on the last day of a fundraising cycle in which Romney was positioned to gross as much as $20 million, putting him far ahead of the other Republicans vying to take on Obama in 2012.
Romney has gained ground politically in recent weeks as the economy has continued to struggle and the focus has evolved from health care to pressing fiscal issues. Unemployment for the Allentown area rose to 8.4 percent in May, up from 8 percent the month before.
Obama won Pennsylvania in 2008, but the state sits on the eastern end of the Rust Belt, which has fared worse than the coasts as the economic recovery has struggled. Republican candidates see Pennsylvania as important to winning the general election and sense vulnerability for Obama among the state's large number of working class white voters, who Obama has historically struggled to court.
Ed Rendell, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and two-term Pennsylvania governor, pre-empted Romney's appearance by telling reporters on a conference call that Romney's claims that the stimulus has failed were incorrect.
"Many of you have heard me say over and over again, the stimulus was a tremendous success here in Pennsylvania," Rendell said.
Reach Josh Lederman at http://www.twitter.com/joshledermanAP.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company