CRAIG – Likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Tuesday made the first visit by a major presidential contender in nearly a century to this Northwest Colorado coal-mining town.
Supporters of the coal industry invited Romney to Craig, and he spoke briefly about energy while keeping up an attack on President Barack Obama for mismanaging the economy.
“(Obama) started off by blaming George Bush, but after three-and-a-half years, that sort of wears thin,” Romney said.
Romney’s morning visit came hours ahead win in the Texas primary, which ensured his nomination for the GOP’s spot in the presidential race in November. It was a triumph of endurance for a candidate who came up short four years ago and had to fight hard this year as voters flirted with a carousel of Republican rivals.
According to the Associated Press count, Romney surpassed the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination by winning at least 88 delegates in the Texas primary.
The former Massachusetts governor has reached the nomination milestone with a steady message of concern about the U.S. economy, a campaign organization that dwarfed those of his GOP foes and a fundraising operation second only to that of his Democratic opponent in the general election, President Obama.
In Craig, Romney stuck mostly to his stump speech, ripping Obama on the federal debt, national health care and high unemployment.
Craig, a town of 10,000, was an unlikely place to deliver such a speech. It is one of the most isolated places on the Western Slope and is a four-hour drive from Denver’s suburbs and their hundreds of thousands of swing voters, where conventional wisdom says the election will be won and lost.
“Democrats don’t win around here,” said Craig’s mayor, Terry Carwile. “So for him to take the trouble to come to an area that would be a slam dunk for his campaign, it’s a pretty generous gesture.”
It was the first visit by a major presidential candidate to Craig in modern history, Carwile said.
Despite its size, Craig has figured prominently in Colorado’s long-running debate about energy, and the town starred in a video by Energy for America, a group linked to Charles and David Koch, major funders of conservative campaigns against Obama.
The video, “The Perfect Storm Over Craig, Colorado,” rips Colorado’s mandate that major utilities get 30 percent of the electricity from renewable sources.
Koch-affiliated groups also have run television ads against Obama for his energy policy.
Romney, however, did not talk state laws Tuesday, confining his criticism to Obama for blocking access to public lands for coal miners and natural-gas and oil drilling.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio criticized Romney for calling for tax breaks for big oil companies.
“That would be in keeping with Romney economics: favoring short-term gains for those at the very top over long-term investments that would help everyone. Rather than supporting an all-of-the-above energy strategy like President Obama, Mitt Romney is favoring one form of energy over others – and Colorado would lose out,” Palacio said.
Romney ridiculed Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy.
“He’s for all the sources of energy that come from above the ground, not those that come from below the ground,” Romney said.
Carwile, a retired coal miner, said local coal mines and coal-fired power plants are doing well, and no jobs have been lost because of state or national regulations. But people are worried that more onerous laws may be on the way, he said.
The mayor wanted to hear a little more than the standard stump speech Tuesday.
“It would have been nice to have it a little more specific to the region,” Carwile said.
Carwile is unaffiliated and has not endorsed a candidate in the presidential race.
It was Romney’s second visit to Colorado since he became the de facto Republican nominee. This first one was also to a rural area – a small oil company outside Fort Lupton.
Later in the day, Romney was scheduled to campaign in Las Vegas with Donald Trump, who flirted with a run for president and repeatedly questioned Obama’s American citizenship.
email@example.com The Associated Press contributed to this report.