FORT WORTH -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned Texans on Tuesday that the nation is at a crossroads and that they -- and all voters -- have a crucial choice to make in November.
"This is a critical time for America," he told a crowd of hundreds gathered at Southwest Office Systems in Fort Worth. "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," Romney said. "I want to restore America to the principles that made us the hope of the Earth."
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Romney said one of his priorities is to help make entrepreneurs of all races successful, and he touted Southwest Office Systems -- a decades-old, Hispanic-led company -- as an example of success.
Romney stood in the company's warehouse Tuesday, under a Texas flag and in front of a banner that proclaimed "Putting Jobs First," thanking Texans for the 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 the event -- which was marked by cries of "We love you, Mitt," chants of "Romney, Romney, Romney" and the removal of at least one protester -- Romney criticized the president's healthcare law, energy policies and other measures, saying they have stifled the economy and job growth.
"It's a tough time for America," he 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. All he has right now is excuses."
A small group of local Democrats attending the event, who couldn't get in because of overflowing crowds, said Romney is the one who is 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," Maxwell 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."
It's the economy
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, introduced Romney to the crowd, 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."
The leaders of the Southwest Office Systems, brothers Vince and Buddy Puente, also spoke, saying the last 31/2 years have been hard for them, bringing too much government into their business -- something they believe that Romney would improve.
Romney praised the family, saying that America is the land of opportunity and that 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. If they get better, it's in spite of him, not because of him."
The two candidates have been criticizing each other about jobs, especially after the nation's unemployment rate rose from 8.1 percent in April to 8.2 percent in May.
Romney's officials have said Obama's policies are "hostile to job creators."
Democrats and White House officials defend the policies. "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 that the economy has been tough on all people and all businesses, especially on Hispanics and Hispanic-run businesses, and that the Hispanic unemployment rate rose to 11 percent last month.
"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 ... everyone from Main Street to Wall Street does their fair share and plays by the same rules," Maxwell said.
'Roll the dice'
This was Romney's first public appearance in North Texas since he visited Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q in Arlington in May 2011.
He is in Texas for two days this week -- for Tuesday's public appearance and various fundraisers where he raised about $3.5 million -- but doesn't plan to attend the Republican Party of Texas' state convention this weekend.
He didn't respond to invitations to attend the convention, which is billed as the nation's largest political gathering and will run 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 who attended, said now is the time for all Republicans to come together behind their presumptive nominee.
"I agree wholeheartedly with him that the country is off track," said Murray, a grassroots activist and a founder 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. I would rather roll the dice with Romney than slit my throat with Obama."
If elected, Romney said, he will work to return the country to its greatest days.
"I will not divide America like this president has," he said. "I will make sure we remain one nation under God."
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610