The job market took center stage Thursday in Asheville as Republican candidate Mitt Romney rebuked President Barack Obama’s record on the economy in favor of his own proposals.
In his visit to the Tar Heel state, Romney promoted his proposed economic and education reform plan to a crowd of locals and Romney supporters. The former Massachusetts governor was joined by one-time GOP presidential candidate hopeful Mike Huckabee and country singer Ronnie Milsap. In his remarks, Romney highlighted his plans for job creation and rebooting the economy, a clear appeal to an audience from a region where unemployment rates have topped 10 percent.
“This president says he wants to change America,” Romney said. “I want to restore the principles that made America the hope of the earth.”
The Romney campaign announced its visit to Asheville just three days prior to the rally. North Carolina is one of only nine “undecided” states in the presidential election. In North Carolina, Romney leads Obama by three percentage points in the polls—51 to 48 percent, according to Rasmussen Reports Thursday.
But the state has historically been very close—in 2008, Obama won by just 14,177 votes.
This was Romney’s first visit to western North Carolina, where the campaign expects to see a great show of support, said Robert Reid, North Carolina communications director for Mitt Romney for President.
“There is a lot of potential for growth, there’s a lot of people who are very friendly to us out here, with the economy out here taking a big hit,” Reid said. “People in western North Carolina understand that they can’t have four more years of the last four years…. We think there is a big opportunity out west.”
Roger Hartley, associate professor of political science at Western Carolina University, said Romney’s visit is an indication that Republicans may not be as confident that they will win North Carolina in November as they were earlier in this election cycle.
“The fact that [Romney] came here tonight is really significant,” Hartley said. “The thinking goes if you keep it close in the west, you can win.”
He added that the visit to Asheville is strategic in its appeal to widening the Republican gap in the rural areas of North Carolina. Obama will likely take the state’s metropolitan areas—including Asheville, considered a left-leaning city. If Romney can make gains in the west, including the rural counties surrounding Asheville, he would be in a good position to take the state.
His appearance in Asheville may have also been an attempt for Romney, as a conservative speaking in a liberal city, to appear more moderate, Hartley noted.
North Carolina’s status as a toss-up means that Romney’s latest visit to the state is not likely to be his last.
“People in North Carolina will probably be seeing a lot of Governor Romney between now and November,” Reid said.
Since Romney secured the GOP presidential nomination, he has visited North Carolina only once, for a Charlotte fundraiser in August. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, campaigned for Romney in Cary earlier this week.
Romney has campaigned heavily in other swing states, however, visiting Florida and Virginia the most, according to MittRomneyCentral, a fan site promoting the presidential hopeful.