WEST ALLIS, Wis. – In a speech billed as his closing argument to voters, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned Friday that re-electing his Democratic opponent would threaten another government shutdown and national default.
The former Massachusetts governor said only he can work with Congress to keep any of that from happening.
“He’s ignored them, he’s attacked them, he’s blamed them,” Romney said about President Barack Obama and Congress. “The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy.”
Romney, who has struck an increasingly bipartisan tone in recent weeks, used Friday’s address to help crystalize what he says would be the real-world impact of Obama’s continued inability to break the political gridlock in Washington.
Indeed, whoever is elected immediately will face the so-called fiscal cliff – a combination of tax increases and domestic and military spending cuts set to take effect next year unless Congress and the White House agree on a plan to stop it.
Romney said the choice voters face Tuesday boils down to one simple question. “Do you want more of the same or do you want real change?” he told hundreds of supporters packed into a cement-floored Wisconsin warehouse.
The excited group cheered thunderously as Romney took the stage and several times broke into spontaneous chants of “Four more days!” – the length of time until Election Day.
Romney’s speech followed by hours the release of the Labor Department’s final jobs report before the election. It showed that U.S. employers added 171,000 jobs in October and that hiring was stronger in September and August than first thought. The unemployment rate inched up to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent in September, because more people started looking for work.
The report sketched a picture of a job market that is gradually gaining momentum after nearly stalling in the spring.
In a statement issued before arriving in Wisconsin, the home state of running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney said the new unemployment report was a “sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill.”
While polls have shown the economy is the top concern of most voters, Romney’s advisers don’t believe the new jobs number will have any effect on the election. Privately they said the report was likely a wash – with a slight uptick in unemployment and stronger-than-expected job growth. Publicly, they said it gave Romney a new point to hammer home in the final days.
“The fact that unemployment is higher today than the day President Obama took office will reinforce voters' desire for change,” said senior Romney strategist Ed Gillespie. “Mitt Romney will hammer home his ability to turn the economy around over the next four days, in sharp contrast to Obama’s chronically high unemployment.”
As he criticized the president’s economic policies, Romney campaigned Friday afternoon inside Screen Machine Industries, an Ohio company that received at least $218,000 in contracts from the federal stimulus package Romney says was a mistake.
“The president just cannot work with Congress to get the work done,” Romney declared while quickly shifting to a bipartisan tone: “I will not represent one party. I will represent one nation.”
In the Wisconsin speech, Romney asked people to vote for “real change” if they are “tired of being tired.”
“From Day One, I will go to work to help Americans get back to work,” Romney said, campaigning briefly in a state he last visited in August.
While Romney’s team is making an aggressive play for Wisconsin, no Republican has won the state since President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
He was to finish his day at a second Ohio rally before launching a whirlwind tour set to take him to New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida – some states more than once – before Tuesday.
Romney was optimistic about Wisconsin.
“This will probably be a turnout election,” he said. “We’re going to do something that surprises a few people in the White House that are there right now. And that is, we’re going to win Wisconsin.”