FORT WORTH - GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned Texans Tuesday that this country is at a crossroads and they - and all voters - have a crucial choice to make this November.
"This is a critical time for America," he told a crowd of hundreds gathered at Fort Worth's Southwest Office Systems. "I love this country. I love it from sea to shining sea."
But voters must choose this fall between two men with different visions.
Democratic President Barack Obama "wants to fundamentally transform America," he said. "I want to restore America to the principles that made us the hope of the Earth."
Romney said one of his priorities, if elected, is to help make entrepreneurs of all races successful, as Southwest Office Systems - a local, long-time Fort Worth Hispanic-led company - has been.
Romney stood in the SOS warehouse Tuesday, under a Texas flag and in front of a banner that proclaims "Putting Jobs First," thanking Texans Tuesday for casting votes that helped him clinch the GOP presidential nomination.
Now, he said, it's time to "come together as Republicans, defeat Barack Obama and take back America."
During a less than hour-long event - marked by cries of "We love you, Mitt," chants of "Romney, Romney, Romney" and at least one protester being escorted out - Romney criticized the president's measures such as the health care bill and energy policies as a way of stifling the economy and the growth of jobs.
"It's a tough time for America," Romney told the crowd of more than 600. "It's surprising to me the president has chosen his campaign slogan - 'Forward.' Forward? Over a cliff?"
"Three and a half years in as president, with America in crisis, with 23 million people out of work, ... he hasn't put forth a plan to get (people) working again," he said. "All he has right now is excuses."
A small group of local Democrats attending the event, who weren't able to get in the event because of overflowing crowds, said Romney is the one full of excuses.
"We've heard it all before - Mitt Romney's promises of more jobs, less debt and small government," said Steve Maxwell, who heads the Tarrant County Democratic Party. "We've seen the consequences of those broken promises: Massachusetts dropped from 36th all the way down to 47th in job creation when he was governor. Manufacturing jobs were lost at twice the national rate under Mitt Romney.
"President Obama has created more private sector jobs than (former President George W.) Bush did during the entirety of his eight-year presidency and saved GM, which helped local families," he said. "We're coming back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; Republicans in Congress should work with the President to create more jobs now."
Romney is in Texas for two days this week - for Tuesday's public appearance and various fundraisers - but does not plan to attend the Republican Party of Texas' state convention in Fort Worth later this week.
It's the economy
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, introduced Romney to the crowd that included Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, saying it was an honor to have him in Fort Worth.
She called him a "leader among men" and noted that "he prays and asks God for wisdom."
And the leaders of the Southwest Office Systems, brothers Vince and Buddy Puente, spoke, saying that the last three and a half years have been hard for them, bringing too much government into their business - something they believe Romney will help make better.
Romney praised the Puente family, saying that America is the land of opportunity and if "you kill that, you kill America."
"I do hope things are getting better," he said of the economy. "The president wants to hang on to that twig that he made things better.
"He did not make things better," Romney said. "If they get better, it's in spite of him, not because of him."
The two presidential candidates have been criticizing each other on the issue of jobs, especially since a recent report shows the nation's unemployment rate grew to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent in April.
Romney's officials have said Obama policies are "hostile to job creators" and point to measures such as the nation's new healthcare law as items that cost money and serve as a "job-killing mandate." Democrats and White House officials defend the policies and progress made under Obama and noted that "without the policies the president put in place, we wouldn't have even this level of job creation today," advisers have said.
Romney also said the economy has been tough on all people and all businesses, but especially on Hispanic businesses and Hispanic Americans, and the rate of unemployment of Hispanic Americans last month rose to 11 percent.
The Obama Isn't Working website on Tuesday listed reasons that President Obama's "hostility to job creators hurts Hispanic-owned businesses."
The website quotes Obama in 2008 saying that it was time to "tear down the barriers that keep the American dream out of the reach" for many Americans, then notes that Obama's administration "has forced Hispanic-owned businesses to cope with new costly government mandates" and his tax plans "would come 'at the expense of smaller businesses.'"
"I'll be the president for all Americans, to make sure this economy is good for all Americans, Hispanic and otherwise," Romney said.
Democrats say Obama has the best plan.
"The President believes we need a job-creating economy built to last - one where we grow the economy from the middle out, not the top down, and where hard work pays off, responsibility is rewarded, and everyone from Main Street to Wall Street does their fair share and plays by the same rules," Maxwell said.
'Roll the dice'
This is Romney's first public appearance in North Texas since he visited Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q in Arlington last May.
This week, he is attending fundraisers in Houston and San Antonio in addition to Fort Worth, but he doesn't plan to attend the GOP state convention here.
He didn't respond to invitations to attend the convention, billed as the country's largest political gathering, that runs Thursday through Saturday at the Fort Worth Convention Center. But some Republicans already deep in committee work for the convention stopped their business and attended Romney's event Tuesday afternoon.
Adrian Murray, a local resident and small business owner, was among those who attended the event and said now is the time for all Republicans to unite behind their presumptive presidential nominee.
"I agree wholeheartedly with him that the country is off track," said Murray, a grassroots activist and founding member of the 912 Project Fort Worth. "More of the same isn't going to put us back on track.
"It's critical that all Republicans unite around this candidate," he said. "I would rather roll the dice with Romney than slit my throat with Obama."
If elected president, Romney said he will work to return this country to its greatest days.
"I will not divide America like this president has," Romney said. "I will make sure we remain one nation under God."
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610