Romney’s first visit to the Palmetto State this election cycle began with a morning event at the home of S.C. Representative Nathan Ballentine. Gov Romney then attended an informal meeting, arranged by Ballantine (one of Gov Nikki Haley’s top lieutenants in S.C.’s legislature), at Meetze Plumbing in Irmo. The gathering provided an intimate setting for community business owners to voice their concerns about staying viable in this economy.
*Ballentine tweeted earlier this morning:
Enjoyed hosting @MittRomney in our home and our community today! Thanks to everyone (especially the business owners) who attended!
Hoping to blunt Romney’s foray into South Carolina, an “Independent” group, consisting of former Obama White House Staffers and former S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges (Dem), released a negative ad which coincided with The Gov’s visit. It ran on local TV stations.
Romney was undeterred:
Irmo, South Carolina (CNN) – Mitt Romney spoke to a button-downed group of small business owners Saturday in the early primary state of South Carolina, but with frequent nods to the Constitution and states’ rights, he sounded like he might have been at ease addressing a Tea Party rally instead.
Romney, who donned jeans and rolled-up shirtsleeves for his first visit to South Carolina as a potential Republican presidential candidate, questioned President Barack Obama’s understanding of the role of government and basic economic matters.
“I believe in the Constitution,” Romney said. “I believe in what the Constitution said, that the government that would deal primarily with citizens at the local level would be local and state government, not the federal government. I don’t think the president respects states like I do.”
“I respect the rights of states to come up with their own answers and their own solutions to compete with one another,” he added.
The former governor’s argument conveniently dovetails with his aggressive defense of the health care plan he implemented in Massachusetts, which has drawn scorn from some conservatives because of its strong resemblance to President Obama’s health care law.
Later, taking questions from the roughly 30-member audience, Romney went out of his way to address the elephant in the room.
“Someone’s got to ask me about health care right?” Romney said with a chuckle, prompting several voters to raise their hands.
He responded that, if elected, he would immediately repeal “Obamacare” and give states block grants to develop their own health care programs.
Romney cited a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board that could halt construction of a new Boeing facility in South Carolina. The North Charleston plant is expected to create thousands of jobs.
“How in the world can the president justify the federal government taking power from South Carolina and not allowing South Carolina to compete on a fair and level playing field?” he asked. “It’s simply unexcusable.”
Romney was also asked about Rep. Paul Ryan’s plans for Medicare:
Romney responded that he will roll out his own ideas for Medicare at a later date but blasted the president for not coming up with his own solution.
While he applauded Ryan for thinking seriously about fixing the entitlement debt burden, Romney said Ryan’s plan “is not the same as my plan.”
“The Ryan plan and my plan are on the same page,” he said. “We have the same objectives. My plan is different than his. It’s not identical.”
Continue reading here.
Although Governor Nikki Haley was unable to attend the event due to scheduling, Romney spoke with her on the phone on Friday. Hayley’s spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said this:
A crowd of about 40 in a hot warehouse stacked with plumbing supplies cheered when he said it was time for politicians to spend less time thinking about getting re-elected and more time on “thinking about how to get the country on the right track and put Americans back to work.”
“They were just touching base,” Godfrey said. “The governor told Governor Romney she was sorry they couldn’t catch up this time, and he let her know that he’d be back often.”
After the confab concluded, Romney treated the audience to trays of barbecued pulled pork, hush puppies and jugs of iced tea (which he and his staff purchased beforehand from Farm Boys restaurant).
*Note on S.C. Rep. Nathan Ballentine:
Did you know? Nathan doesn’t keep his State House salary. He donates his salary to local community groups and organizations and in 2006 designated funds specifically to scholarships for deserving seniors in our community.
Who else does this sound like?
UPDATE by Ross:
UPDATE 2 by Jayde: To see photos of Mitt mingling with folks at Farm Boys restaurant and Meetze Plumbing, click here (click on photo on left-hand side).
UPDATE 3 by Ross: Interesting insight here.
The issue at hand is, what does that mean for Gov. Nikki Haley? Ballentine and Haley, former deskmates in the House, rarely make a move without the other. Haley supported Romney during the 2008 primary, and Romney endorsed Haley during her campaign for governor. Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin did as well.
But, with Barbour out and Palin unlikely to run, and her best friend siding with Romney, is this a sign Haley is with the Romney camp, too?
Thanks @NathanBallentin + Karen for hosting me for some real lemonade and discussion about the economy w/ voters in your SC home