Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney pushed his economic plan Saturday, saying he would spur dramatic US business growth and provide far more jobs than his rival President Barack Obama.
US unemployment crept up last month to 8.2 percent, and Romney has used the worrying data as a club to bludgeon the Obama administration over its policies to turn around the sluggish economy, as the presidential race heats up less than five months from the November election.
"Job one in this country is to create jobs for the American people, and I will," Romney told more than 500 supporters at an alloy factory in Weatherly, a small Pennsylvania town where he marked a stop during a five-day bus tour across America's industrial heartland.
Several regions in the states he's visiting -- including New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin -- have been hard-hit in recent years, with a hollowing out of manufacturing and other jobs that was only made worse by the 2008 recession.
Romney, a multimillionaire former businessman and investor, has long called for lower taxes on businesses, particularly small to medium enterprises that form the majority of US companies, less regulations and a repeal of Obama's signature health care reform law.
He argues that such steps would bring stability to employers and generate a wave of new hires, creating a knock-on effect that could bring economic gains to millions of struggling working-class Americans.
"I want to get America working again," Romney said.
"Not only will more homes have paychecks coming into them but also there will be more competition for workers, and therefore wages will go up."
Obama and Romney, locked in a neck-and-neck race, presented dueling economic visions for the country earlier this week, as each side seeks to exploit shifting economic news to position itself for the sprint to the finish line in less than five months.
Romney accused Obama of "cheap" talk not backed up by action, while the president said his challenger's "top-down" economics merely favored the rich.
Romney enlisted former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who has been an anti-Obama attack dog of sorts for Romney, to drive home the message that the president lacks the economic chops to create jobs and that three-plus years of Obama's economic plans have been a failure.
Pawlenty told the crowd at Weatherly Casting & Machine Co. that he met a child in the state of Iowa who succinctly laid out how low taxes lead to more disposable income, and to more purchases that increase business, in turn generating more hires.
"We shouldn't have to have a 10-year-old boy in Iowa know more about the economy than the president of the United States," Pawlenty said.
Romney and many top Republicans laid into Obama for his recent comment that the US private sector was "doing fine," an observation that angered many senior Democrats as well.
Romney sat down with business executives to talk about his economic plans before taking a tour of the Weatherly plant and then addressing the crowd.
"What I heard from these gentlemen and ladies was that actually government is not working just fine -- that sometimes it makes things harder for small businesses to grow and thrive," he said.
Local resident Ann Gangwer, 62, said Romney's pro-jobs agenda would likely help the local economy.
"There used to be a lot more industry here in Weatherly, and this foundry is really the last major industry in this town," she told AFP.
"Most people have to travel quite a ways for their employment, and it would be great to have some more manufacturing in the area."
Romney says his six-state bus tour will bring him in closer contact with everyday Americans, many of whom are finding themselves struggling to make ends meet in the aftermath of the worst recession in decades.