AURORA, Colo. — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stopped at a local Mexican restaurant Monday, meeting with small-business owners and defending "Romneycare" even as he attacked "Obamacare."
Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, blasted President Barack Obama on the economy, saying the Democrat's "approach, his policies have not put Coloradans back to work."
"To create jobs, it helps to have had jobs," Romney told people who had packed into the Brewery Bar IV restaurant. "This president is a nice guy, but he's never had a real job in the private sector."
As a dozen or so business owners gathered in the restaurant around bowls of chips and guacamole, Romney asked each one about their concerns. Some, like Dave Deline, owner of Deline Box Co. in Littleton, Colo., wanted to talk about the decline in the nation's manufacturing sector.
Romney's economic record in Massachusetts is something Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio was happy to point out Monday.
"Under Romney's watch, Massachusetts not only lagged behind the country as a whole — they even slipped to 47th in job creation," Palacio said.
Colorado's unemployment rate of 8.7 percent is below the national average of 9.1 percent.
Romney easily won Colorado's presidential caucuses in 2008. On Monday, he showed that he still has significant support among current and former GOP officeholders, unveiling a Colorado leadership committee that included former Gov. Bill Owens, former Sens. Hank Brown and Wayne Allard, Attorney General John Suthers and Treasurer Walker Stapleton.
Jay Davidson, chairman and chief executive of First American State Bank in Greenwood Village, Colo., came to the event and complained of excessive regulation under Obama.
Davidson said later he wasn't sure he would support Romney but added, "I like him because he's a fiscal conservative."
Some Republicans who came to see Romney had specific concerns, pointing to the universal health care coverage law adopted in Massachusetts while Romney was governor. Significant portions of the law are similar to the national health care law later crafted under Obama.
Many conservatives have savaged "Romneycare," which, like the federal health care law, mandates that individuals purchase a minimum level of health insurance, provides subsidies for those who can't and operates a "connector" for individuals and businesses to obtain coverage. Critics call both plans socialized medicine.
Throughout his comments at the restaurant, Romney continuously zinged the president over "Obamacare" and accused him of favoring "European"-style, government-imposed solutions to problems.
"I want to hear him talk about Romneycare," said Michelle Haedrich of Broomfield. "I would like to hear how he justifies putting in that sort of system."
Romney said what he signed in Massachusetts was a state-specific plan, not a one-size-fits-all, federally imposed solution.
"What we did in our state was match the needs of our citizens with a solution that was worked out (by) Republicans and Democrats," Romney said. "It's still supported 3-to-1 in Massachusetts by our residents.
"But what works in Massachusetts will not necessarily work in Mississippi or Montana or Colorado," he added. "That's why, in the brilliance of the founders, they let states craft solutions that work for them.
"President Obama took one idea and drastically expanded it, spending $1 trillion of federal money."
Asked whether he credited Obama for any successful policies, Romney said: "He got Osama bin Laden. I appreciate the fact that he did that and made the decision to go after the guy. That was a good decision. I also agree with his decision to pursue a (troops) surge in Afghanistan."
Denver Post staff writer Kurtis Lee contributed to this report.