TOLEDO, Ohio _ After netting wins in Arizona and Michigan, Mitt Romney kept a tight focus on economic issues during a campaign trip through Ohio on Wednesday, promising to be more aggressive than President Barack Obama in cracking down on China for its trade practices.
Appearing at a Toledo factory that makes fence posts, Romney argued that China has harmed American businesses in recent years by "cheating," and he faulted Beijing for holding down its currency artificially, putting American businesses at a disadvantage. "By virtue of doing that and holding down their prices, they were able to put American businesses out of business and kill American jobs," Romney said.
Obama has pressured China to examine its trade practices and adjust upward the value of its currency, and China has pledged a gradual approach on the matter. But Romney argued that Washington's failure to take more substantial steps has created a trade imbalance in China's favor.
"This president has just sat idly by and watched that happen. Oh, he complains; he says he would take them to the mat. But they've walked all over him," Romney said. "If I'm president of the United States, that's going to end. On Day One, I will declare China a currency manipulator, allowing me to put tariffs on products where they are stealing American jobs unfairly. We can compete when there's a level playing field and we'd win. ... I'm going to insist that China plays by the same rules that everyone in the world plays by."
At the subdued rally on a cold and rainy morning here, Romney did not mention Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich by name. But he said voters in Ohio would have to choose between his record in the private sector and theirs in Washington.
"I just don't think we are going to beat Barack Obama and get our country back on track if we have guys whose resume looks like his resume; who have never really run anything, don't understand how the private sector works fundamentally _ in their bones, having worked in it. I do," he said. "It is one of the reasons I am running because I know how to get America working again."
Romney toured the stamping room of the factory with the company's chief executive and several other employees. Surrounded by piles of raw steel that are stamped into the U-shaped posts used for highway signs, Romney was invited to start the machine that begins the stamping process.
"I got to press the button. That will be my heavy lift in terms of manufacturing today," he joked.
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One of Romney's guests at the event was Joe Wurzelbacher, who became the campaign celebrity known as "Joe the Plumber" when he pressed Obama on his tax plan during the 2008 race and ultimately made appearances on behalf of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee.
Wurzelbacher, who is running for Congress in Ohio's 9th District, said Wednesday that he was not planning to endorse any of the GOP primary candidates, but had also attended Santorum's recent rally in Ohio.
Wurzelbacher at first told reporters he didn't think Romney needed any advice. But then he added: "Maybe hang out with some steelworkers, hang out with some plumbers and carpenters, you know, see what it's like, these blue-collar guys who do it every day in and out."
When pressed on whether Romney had difficulty connecting with those voters, Wurzelbacher said he was referring, not specifically to Romney, but "politicians in general."
"If they were blue collar at one time, they forgot it. They like to pretend they're blue collar when they're up there," he said.