Illegal immigration and the economy are two top issues with Nevadans, Mitt Romney told reporters in Reno Friday.
His comments came after a rally held in an airport hotel ballroom that drew several hundred enthusiastic supporters, including one who shouted out "illegal immigration" as Romney was running through his "To Do" list if he's elected president.
He said he's heard "a great deal" about illegal immigration while campaigning in Nevada, calling the issue "among the most straightforward to deal with."
Romney's solutions for stemming illegal immigration into the United States include finishing the fence along the Mexican border, hiring more border agents, setting up a verification system and punishing government entities that don't comply with existing laws by withholding federal funds.
He also made a point to stress the need to keep the economy strong. "I spent my life in the private sector. I know why jobs come and go. I'll fight hard to keep good jobs in Nevada and every state in America," Romney said, adding President Bush's new economic stimulus plan "makes a good deal of sense."
Romney is expected to unveil his own plan for jump-starting what he described as the nation's "somewhat fragile" economy on Saturday, after he leaves Nevada for Florida. That's the next state to hold a Republican presidential primary, on Jan. 29.He said that, long-term, the economy will benefit from lower taxes, less regulation and a level playing field globally. Also, Romney said, neatly tying the two top issues in Nevada together, the economy "needs immigration to work for us and not the other way around."
Romney answered question after question from local and national reporters in Reno Friday but there was something he wasn't willing to do at the press conference.
When a member of the press corps' cell phone started ringing to the beat of a pop song, a reporter asked the candidate to show off his dance moves.
"No," Romney said quickly. "That's one thing I don't do."
It's the delegates, stupid
Once again, Romney explained why he's in Nevada and not South Carolina with the rest of the Republican field. "I'm campaigning in 50 states, not two or three," he told reporters.
Although both states vote Saturday, there are more delegates in Nevada even if everyone else is paying attention to the results of the first Southern state to vote in the presidential primary season.
And spending time in places like the Silver State could pay off if he becomes the party's nominee. Nevada will be a battleground state come November, and Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning hard to win their caucus with that in mind.
"I want to win in the general election," Romney said. "I think it's going to be real hard to win the presidency if by not showing up in Nevada (for the caucus) you communicate that Nevada doesn't matter to you as much as it does to the other guys."Romney noted he felt the same way about Wyoming, where he finished first in that state's party convention, a victory that drew little notice but did add to his delegate count.
Going to see Leno
Mitt Romney is taking a page out of the playbook of one of his rivals by leaving Nevada on the eve of the state's GOP caucus to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
That's what former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee did before Iowa's Jan. 3 caucus, and he went on to beat Romney there. So now it's Romney who's heading to Burbank today to tape the popular late-night program.
Of course, when Huckabee left Iowa for California in the midst of the hotly contested race in the first state to vote in the 2008 presidential race, other GOP candidates smugly suggested he was making a big mistake.
That thinking has changed, said Romney's traveling press secretary, Eric Fehrnstrom.
"It worked for Huckabee," Fehrnstrom told reporters on the campaign plane. "He won in Iowa, so apparently it was the right strategy. The path to the White House goes through the Jay Leno show."Fehrnstrom joked that Romney's appearance this evening on The Tonight Show "was the only way we could be in Nevada and South Carolina at the same time." Both states are voting Saturday, but Romney is the only major Republican candidate who's chosen to campaign in Nevada in the final hours over the higher-profile Southern state.
Romney is usually surrounded by family members on the campaign trail, and Thursday night's stop at a campaign call center set up in a Las Vegas office building was no exception.
Before going onstage to rally volunteers, Romney waited in a stairwell with his son, Josh, daughter-in-law, Jen, and their three young children. Including Wyatt, who has a croup-like cough and a constantly running nose.
Romney asked his son about Wyatt's cough and helped his daughter-in-law settle into a chair with his sleeping granddaughter, Gracie. Then the candidate handed Wyatt a miniature John Deere tractor, no doubt a souvenir from the Iowa campaign.But when Wyatt reached out to grab his grandfather, Romney laughed and stepped back. "Oh, no," he said. "I'm not catching what you've got."
Wyatt and his siblings weren't the only children at the evening rally. Many of the volunteers a group that included many Mormons brought their own children to meet Romney. Former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Romney supporter, looked out over the crowd and said with a smile, "I thought I was at a Hannah Montana concert."
Romney told about 200 Elko residents gathered in the auditorium of the community's new Adobe Middle School that his approach to the economy was better for them than what the Democrats are proposing.
"The only place you could lose more money than the Las Vegas gambling tables was by watching the Democrats, because they're going to raise taxes on everybody," he said to applause.