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Mitt Romney's 4-Letter Word: Jobs

Mitt Romney's 4-Letter Word: Jobs

By Erin McPike - April 1, 2011

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nevada - Slowly but surely, Mitt Romney is easing into his all-but-declared second bid for the White House.  At an event today in this economically hard hit state, Romney made clear that this time around he won't veer far from a four letter word: "jobs."

The former Massachusetts governor took a genuine interest in gleaning all he could about unemployment in Nevada and its effect on the foreclosure crisis here when he toured a depressed local neighborhood with a host couple from the block. The event took on the form of Hillary Clinton's highly successful "listening tours" of upstate New York when she was readying her first bid for the Senate in 2000, and it showed a more humble side of well-polished Romney.

One woman drove up in a truck, rolled down her window and shouted to Romney that she voted for him in Nevada's 2008 caucuses.

"Oh, great, what do I owe ya," he said back, before approaching her vehicle and peering in to chat. Then he marveled at the three car seats in her backseat and asked, "Work OK? You've got a house in this area?" And he asked whether she or her husband had jobs and if she could afford gasoline for her big rig.

"Not every day I find someone who voted for me," he said as he walked back to his hosts. "I've got to pay special attention." Then he returned to peppering the couple, Dave and Kathy Tyler, and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, with more questions about hospitality and construction jobs, because the woman who stopped to chat said her husband had been unemployed for a while from construction work.

"What caused the downward spiral in a neighborhood like this?" he asked, quizzing his hosts whether it was prompted by job loss or people walking away from bad loans.

Several minutes later, after rounding a corner, Romney stopped in front of a foreclosed house and greeted the press.

He took about half a dozen questions from a small crew of reporters, and he brushed aside questions that weren't focused on the economy. When his January trip to the Middle East came up, the casual, blue jeans-clad Romney cut in to say he would be talking about foreign policy on Saturday, when he addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition's winter meeting at the Venetian.

A local reporter told him he had applied for a modification for his own home and was turned down because he hadn't lost his job, but Romney ultimately told him, "The right course is to get new jobs in this country."

Romney's Las Vegas hosts, the Tylers, have had a decline of more than $200,000 in the value of their home in the last three years, but a sunny Romney delivered an optimistic message. "This community will come back, "Romney said. "These homes will be valuable again."

He gave a brief lesson to the press about what he learned, including that job loss in any community has a domino effect on its housing market.

"When you think about the tragedy of unemployment statistics, it's not just a number, it's real lives and real people," he said, "and it's people who don't have incomes, they can't afford homes and then as their homes fall into foreclosure like this one, or disrepair where people just walk away from them, it not only hurts those that are out of work, it hurts those that are around those homes and living in the community, so unemployment has an impact far greater than even the 14 million or so themselves that are out of work."

He did, however, acknowledge: "Good news today on employment front."

"You saw the numbers are better - a little better than expected," he said, but he didn't budge.

"I'm afraid some people are becoming conditioned to unemployment rates above 8 percent," he went on, driving his message and setting a high standard for himself should he ultimately wind up in the White House. "I mean unemployment should be around 4 percent, or less, and the idea that we celebrate 8.8 percent - I'm glad for the progress, but my goodness, we've got a lot of people out of work."

He then charged that President Obama has been focused on an agenda that has had the opposite of the intended effect of the stimulus, which, he said, created government jobs, but not incentives for private-sector jobs.

Instead, Romney said, Obama pushed cap-and-trade, card check and Obamacare - even though it was only the final policy goal of that trio, comprehensive health care reform, that enjoyed the president's signature. But, Romney said, those three agenda items scared the business community and made it more difficult to get the economy rolling again.

But if improved jobs numbers this morning put a slight damper on Romney's general message, the morning event still showed just how fertile the Silver State's ground still is for the man who was last cycle's Republican golden boy here. Krolicki told Romney he'd try to help him win Nevada's caucuses again this cycle.

In addition to the local journalist who asked Romney a personalized question, another posed for a photo with the once and future presidential hopeful after telling him that he cast his vote for him last time.

And about twenty minutes after she first showed up, the woman in the truck drove back up the street to ask Romney if he'd be running again, and he gave the same non-denial he's been giving for several years.

A reporter asked Romney a similar question, but he said, "No process observations today or great insights in that regard."

And as he made his exit, Romney told a couple reporters he had a few more speeches to give today before his big appearance Saturday, and then he'd be off to Utah to go to church with two of his sons, and then it's Kansas on Monday.

When reminded that Kansas is awfully close to Iowa, he said with a smile, "I won't be in Iowa." And then he climbed into a big SUV and drove away.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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