Shaking hands and smiling for cell phone cameras at a Rosemont diner Friday morning, presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised supporters that he would put Americans back to work.
“The No. 1 issue in America is the strength of our economy,” he said. “And on that issue, this president’s a lightweight. Now it’s not because he’s not smart, it’s because he never worked in the free economy. He’s never had a job in the free economy. It’s hard to create a job if you’ve never had one.”
Romney made his first campaign stop in Illinois at Pancakes Eggcetera shortly after 7 a.m. Friday. While U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky led a protest against Romney's stance on Planned Parenthood in front of the diner, Romney greeted fans in the restaurant's parking lot. He spoke for about a minute, then introduced Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens, Illinois State Treasurer and Romney campaign chair Dan Rutherford and U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert.
“To have Governor Romney here is a real thrill,” Biggert said. “It’s great that Illinois is in play, for once.”
Rutherford told the two dozen fans gathered outside that Romney would be going on from Illinois to Puerto Rico, then returning to make appearances in Peoria on Monday and in Chicago on Tuesday. He said Romney would make another appearance somewhere in the suburbs on Tuesday, when voters go to the polls in Illinois.
According to the latest tallies from the Associated Press, Romney is leading the pack of GOP candidates with 495 delegates; his closest competitor, Rick Santorum, has 252. To win, a candidate must have 1,154 delegates. The latest poll by the Chicago Tribune / WGN TV shows Romney and Santorum neck and neck in Illinois, with Romney at 35 percent and Santorum at 31 percent.
“If you’ve been out to vote, go out and do it again,” Rutherford joked.
After shaking a few hands outside, Romney disappeared inside the restaurant for the taping of an interview with Fox and Friends, then gave a short speech to supporters seated at booths and tables. He began by talking about a 17-minute documentary-style video the Obama campaign released on Thursday. As Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told ABC News, the documentary is designed to put the country’s current economic state — and the president’s reponse — “into perspective.”
But Romney said the video, shot by Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim, failed to show the realities of the American experience.
“I found it interesting that he could find nothing wrong with the president, nothing negative to say,” Romney said. “I thought, well I’ll give you some help.”
“You could make a call to some of the moms that are having a hard time paying for gas,” he continued. “You could also talk to some of the people who are having a hard time getting to and from work, given the price of gasoline.”
Obama, Romney said, had failed the country when it comes to gasoline, energy, and most of all, the economy.
“What I bring to this race is 25 years in the private sector,” Romney said. “I understand how the economy works not because I debated the economy in Congress, but because I worked in the economy.”
Supporters Say Economy is Their No. 1 Issue
Fans of Romney said it was his business experience that garnered their support.
Nancy Pratt, of Wilmette, said she and her husband, who runs his own architecture firm, are “huge supporters” of Romney.
“I know business, he knows business,” she said of the candidate. “We need someone who’s just going to roll up their sleeves and get the work done.”
Pratt said her husband’s business was significantly affected when the economy began to spiral downward in 2008.
“We’re just doing what we can to survive,” she said. “He definitely has seen a huge drop in his income.”
Patrick Wohl, a senior at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, said he was excited to vote for Romney during the first presidential election in which he was eligible to vote.
“I came here to see what he’s all about,” Wohl said. “I think you need a business man to take this country back to prosperity.”
Pancakes Eggcetera Gets an Economic Stimulus
Counting a stack of bills at the cash register as the candidate took off with an entourage of Secret Service, a waitress said the restaurant had done well that morning.
“This is an economic stimulus,” said Rutherford, gesturing to restaurant owner Marty Ferraro. “Marty here at this restaurant loves the business.”
Concluding his speech, Romney also remarked on the restaurant’s moniker.
“Pancakes Eggcetera,” he said. “This is a very novel name.”
Ferraro said it was his idea, and Romney moved on to his most important message for supporters: get out the vote.
“You’re allowed to vote multiple times,” he said, pausing for effect. “By getting a friend to go with you.”
“This is Chicago, right? I had to clarify.”