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Presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks with the press Monday at the General Motors exhibit at the 2008 North American International Auto show in Detroit, Mich.

DETROIT — GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Monday he's ready to roll up his sleeves and fix Michigan's economic woes in a major campaign speech delivered to the Detroit Economic Club.

"Washington politicians look at Michigan and see a rust belt. But the real rust is in Washington," Romney told the more than 500 business and community leaders gathered at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center on the day before the state's primary election.

Romney stressed the need to salvage Michigan's auto industry as key to maintaining America's position as a world leader. "It is essential that America remains strong, indeed the strongest nation on earth," he said. "That will only happen if we have an economy that leads the world."

That status has been hurt by the decline in auto manufacturing, he said, noting early on in this speech and as he has throughout his campaign stops in Michigan that Detroit was once the capital of automaking — "Motor City to everyone in the world."

Now all of Michigan is suffering from the nation's highest unemployment rate and serves as a warning to what can happen the rest of the U.S. economy, Romney said.

'What Michigan is feeling will be felt by the entire nation unless we win the economic battle here," he said. "Michigan is a bit like the canary in the mine shaft."

He laid out a plan for bringing back the auto industry that included easing government regulations on mileage standards, lowering

corporate taxes while giving breaks for new fuel technology development, and cutting health-care costs for employees.

"Washington has to stop loading Detroit down with unfunded mandates," Romney said, explaining that while cars do need to get increased mileage to lower fuel consumption, federally dictated rates are not the answer.

He also committed to increasing the nation's investment in energy research, fuel technology, materials science and automotive technology from $4 billion to $20 billion, suggesting much of the money would be spent in Michigan. Romney said funding for government retraining programs need to be shifted into personal accounts that are managed by the unemployed themselves.

"There is no one silver bullet," Romney said, promising to address the state's problems if elected and reminding his audience of

his vast business experience. The former governor of Massachusetts, Romney amassed a personal fortune turning around companies as a Boston-based venture capitalist before coming to Utah to do the same for the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.