BECKLEY — Mitt Romney and Barack Obama aren’t on any election ballot this year.
That didn’t stop the former GOP presidential nominee from railing against the president Tuesday, hammering home an argument that’s one of most popular and frequent among the candidates Romney came to West Virginia to endorse: Obama and his policies are bad for West Virginia.
More than 200 people welcomed Romney with applause and chants during a rally for Republican candidates at Tamarack. Standing on a stage with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, state Sen. Evan Jenkins and Alex Mooney, Romney told the crowd they were looking at the team that would “stand up for coal” in Congress.
“This team here, this is the team that’s going to represent West Virginia in Washington,” Romney said.
Romney easily carried West Virginia in the 2012 presidential election. He relied on some of his campaign messaging to fire up the crowd Tuesday: Romney blasted Obama and other national Democrats on foreign policy, said the Affordable Care Act isn’t working and criticized the president for not creating enough jobs.
As Capito, Jenkins and others pointed out repeatedly, Romney won all 55 counties and more than 60 percent of the overall vote. He won the 2nd Congressional District by 22 percentage points, said Mooney, the GOP nominee in the 2nd Congressional District.
The former Maryland GOP lawmaker hopes voters recall Romney’s endorsement of him over Democrat Nick Casey.
“The contrast between (Casey) and I is the same contrast between Obama and Mitt Romney,” Mooney said after the event, noting Casey’s support of Obama when he served as state Democratic Party chairman.
“Here in this election in November the voters will have a choice again”
Capito’s race against Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant for the U.S. Senate and Jenkins challenging Rep. Nick Rahall in the 3rd Congressional District have both drawn considerable national attention. National Republicans are confident Capito will win and help the GOP secure a majority in the Senate, and they see Rahall as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress.
Both parties and groups supporting or attacking the candidates have spent millions on both races, making the 2nd Congressional District race “less high profile, it appears” than the other two races, Mooney said. Mooney, who served as a Romney delegate at the GOP convention in 2008 while a Maryland state senator, said he thought Romney’s endorsement could help change that.
“I think both Nick Casey and I are trying to get known, he just started his TV ad (Monday). I had a very contentious primary, which is over, which gave an opportunity to meet a lot of voters and get known,” Mooney said.
“But I think (Romney) coming here, and not just him but the team ... it’s not just the endorsements, it what it stands for.”
Jenkins called Romney’s endorsement “a very welcome boost.”
Although he was a registered Democrat in 2012, Jenkins said he voted for Romney. Noting that he also voted for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2008 presidential election, Jenkins said Romney’s policies are more in line with what’s best for West Virginia and helped spur his flip to the GOP.
“Not only was I not voting for the Democratic nominee for president, I was not supporting the policies coming out of Washington driven by the Obama ... agenda,” Jenkins said.
“In West Virginia, there are just a lot of Democrats who look beyond the party labels.”
Romney spoke most candidly about Capito. He joked about her majoring in Zoology at Duke University — “I can think of nothing better to prepare her for the U.S. Senate” — and laughed while appearing with just Capito for media questions after the rally.
Capito thanked Romney for his support.
“It means that Governor Romney has come here as a very popular person in our state and he has said to West Virginians across our state who voted to make him president, that he believes the policies that I will advocate for in the United States Senate are going to put people back to work, are going to provide opportunities for our children and our grandchildren, are going to preserve the freedoms West Virginians care about,” Capito said.
In both his speech and addressing questions with the media, Romney blasted the Affordable Care Act. Also known as Obamacare, the act is both often criticized in West Virginia and the impetus for changes that allowed more than 130,000 additional people to receive health care coverage through Medicaid.
Capito has previously supported the Medicaid enrollment expansion but criticized other portions of the Affordable Care Act.
“I think what we need to do is start over and keep what works,” Capito said Tuesday.
She noted she supports parts of the law that created insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and allow younger people to remain on their parents’ health plans, but argued the law has increased health insurance costs for small businesses and will lead to more government control of health care.
Democrats and the United Mine Workers chided Republicans for campaigning with Romney.
The union campaigned for Obama in West Virginia in 2008 and UMW President Cecil Roberts appeared earlier this year in a television advertisement supporting Rahall.
“I have to question the wisdom of bringing Mitt Romney into a state like West Virginia when for his entire political career in Massachusetts he was leading the fight to end the use of coal,” Roberts said in a press release.
“We don’t need him coming into our state fighting to shut down our coal-fired power plants like he did in Massachusetts.”
Tennant’s campaign, which frequently argues Tennant doesn’t support the president’s energy policies, also pointed to a comment Romney made as governor of Massachusetts about a coal-fired power plant that “kills people.”
Romney noted that he wasn’t running for anything right now when asked Tuesday about the comment, and that he and Capito don’t agree on everything. During his speech he argued the president hasn’t taken advantage of the country’s energy resources and the Republican candidates would stand up for “people who work in the coal industry.”
A small crowd of people stood outside Tamarack in the rain to protest the event. They stood near a large inflatable cat; later Tuesday afternoon the state Democratic party said the “fat cat” was a symbol of “Wall Street and other out-of-West Virginia money flooding into the state for Republican candidates.”
Both Republicans and Democrats have received millions of dollars in contributions from out-of-state donors, and groups from outside West Virginia are spending millions to support or attack candidates from both parties.
The Tennant campaign repeated arguments that Capito favors “Wall Street” over West Virginia in its criticism of Tuesday’s rally.
“Congressman Capito is desperately trying to hide behind other Washington politicians because she knows her record of serving Wall Street doesn’t stack up to Natalie Tennant’s record of serving West Virginia families,” Tennant campaign spokeswoman Jenny Donohue said.
West Virginia is the latest stop on the campaign trail for Romney, who’s appeared recently in Florida and is set to stump for GOP candidates in Arkansas and North Carolina this week. The campaigning has led to questions about whether Romney is considering a third bid at the White House.
Romney said he’s not going to run again, an answer he’s given repeatedly when asked in recent weeks.
“I’m not worried about the past, I’m much more worried about what our future looks like, and if we elect people like Shelley Moore Capito to take that leadership role you’ll see a brighter future,” Romney said after the event.
The general election is Nov. 4.
Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.