With three fresh endorsements from key state House leaders, GOP presidential candidate and front-runner Mitt Romney was able to get a few bites into the White House and his lunch during a campaign stop in Tallahassee Wednesday.
Romney sat down with 12 capital-area business leaders and the owner of the Seminole Wind, the buffet-style restaurant that brings together church and steak, before heading off to the Capitol for private meetings with Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Besides encouraging those already at the Seminole Wind to buy the chicken, Romney heaped criticism upon President Barack Obamas economic recovery efforts as harming the American middle-class through chronic unemployment, rising gas prices, increased food prices and declining home values.
He has not done what the middle class needs to have a bright, prosperous future. In fact, everything hes done has hurt the middle class, Romney said. If hes a warrior for the middle class, Id hate to see him if hes a warrior against the middle class.
Tommy Bryant, owner of Seminole Wind, told Romney the extension of unemployment benefits will only keep people on unemployment longer and that such federal programs make it more advantageous for potential workers not to take jobs.
Marian Johnson, the Florida Chamber of Commerce vice president of political strategy, said she hasnt made up her mind in the GOP contest and just wanted to hear what Romney had to say about business.
Romney said a second stimulus as proposed by President Obama would be throwing gas on fire.
We have to reshape the foundation of Americas economy, Romney said. Right now, government sees itself as not just the watchdog but the opponent of business. Business is somehow bad to many people in government and we have to change that.
Florida Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, stood by Romney's side during the restaurant visit.
Hes a person I believe has put together a road map to put America back to work, Thrasher said.
Seminole Wind patron Nettie Brown of Tallahassee said she was encouraged by Romneys statement to her that he wanted to save Social Security. However, she wants him and other politicians to go further.
Besides giving the program a cost-of-living adjustment, she said the benefits need to only go to those who put into the program.
Earlier in the day, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, announced they were backing Romney. All three had been behind former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who pulled out of the race in August.
I am honored to have the support of Representatives Weatherford, Dorworth and Corcoran, Romney said. They are the current and future leaders of the Republican Party in Florida. As I visit the state and reach out to voters, I look forward to working with these leaders to fix our economy and bring jobs back to Florida. They share my pro-growth agenda and with their help, we can defeat President Obama in 2012.
Provided their majority in the Florida House holds, Republicans have penciled in Dorworth to take over as speaker after the 2014 elections and Corcoran to take over after the 2016 election cycle.
I am proud to get behind Mitt Romney in this election, said Weatherford, who will take the gavel after the 2012 elections. He has the vision and experience that will be necessary to put our country back on the right path. President Obamas policies are creating uncertainty and killing jobs in this country. With millions of Americans unemployed, Florida voters are looking for a candidate who will be able to turn this economy around.
According to polls released before Romney's restaurant visit, Romney is leading or tied with his rivals for the nomination.
A poll by ABC puts Romney ahead of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain, while CBS has Romney in a tie with Cain. A Quinnipiac poll placed Romney at 22 percent, followed by Cain and Perry. Others in the field were in single digits.
Mitt Romney has regained his position out front as the Texas governors fortunes have fallen, stated Pollster Peter Brown. The GOP race, however, remains quite open A big question now is whether Herman Cain is a serious candidate for the nomination. He has zoomed into second place ahead of Perry.
Asked after the midday meeting what he thought of Florida forcing a change to the primary calendar, Romney simply said its exciting.
Romney didn't appear before the media after the meetings with Scott and Bondi.
Scott has yet to endorse a candidate.
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