TUCSON, Ariz. -- Mitt Romney was in former CEO mode this morning as he addressed a group of 40 local business leaders at a Ford dealership here, with regulatory reform, tax policy and health care reform dominating the hour-long discussion.
Romney opened his hour-long question-and-answer session with a private-sector anecdote about his decision to pass on investing in a start-up airline.
"I said look, I'm not investing in anymore airlines, I don't care what the story is. It's just too scary. And Jet Blue went on and did pretty well without me," Romney said to laughs from the group. "I haven't been right 100% of the time, but I've learned from the mistakes. I learned what causes businesses to grow, what causes them to shrink. I've learned about competition domestically and internationally, and I'm devoted to making America the most attractive place in the world for business."
That business-friendly message is a cornerstone of Romney's frequent roundtables with local business leaders, and he largely stayed on that message today.
In response to a question on the topic of immigration reform -- an important issue in this border state -- and Gov. Rick Perry's position on offering in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, Romney noted that this was an area in which he disagreed with Perry, but that he himself was strongly in favor of legal immigration -- with highly skilled immigrants or those with advanced degrees moving to the front of the line.
In a nod to his host, local car dealer and major GOP donor and kingmaker Jim Click, who also hosted a luncheon for Romney later in the day, the former Massachusetts governor compared structural health-care cost problems to the car business.
"It'd be like in the automobile business if the customer came in and they paid $1,000 dollars -- and that was it, that was effectively their deductible,” he said. “They pay $1,000 dollars and after that it’s free. They can get any car they want. They pay $1,000 dollars and after that it’s free, paid for by someone else. And then the sales person, they get a commission based on the more automobile they give you," Romney said, describing the pay-for-service model of healthcare. "So we'd all be driving Ferraris and Rolls Royces. That's what happened in health care, and we've got to change that."
On the economy, Romney continued in his ongoing critique of President Obama's policies, saying his new jobs program simply moved money from one federal pocket to another, and repeated that while he thinks Obama is a "nice guy," he doesn't have a clue on the economy "never having signed the front of a payroll check."
Romney also weighed in on last night's special-election results in New York and Nevada. He pointed a questioner to Dan Senor's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning, which suggests President Obama (and by extension other democratic candidates) are losing the Jewish vote for what Senor (a Romney foreign policy advisor) considers to be Obama's "one-sided" relationship with Israel.
Romney said voters also selected GOP candidates because they believe the president's economic policies have failed. He did not mention either new congressman by name.
Asked by one business leader to handicap the race, Romney used a quote he attributed to Yogi Berra, saying he didn't like forecasting, "especially when the future is involved."
But Romney did say he still felt the economy would be the driving force in the 2012 elections, and that "if people don't like the way the economy is going, they'll vote for someone new." Earlier in the event, he was more bold, saying it was important to get ideas to help the economy from business leaders.
"There's a good shot I could be in the White House some day," Romney said. "Not a sure deal, but a good shot."
As Romney was preparing to leave the building, a reporter shouted a question, asking how important Arizona, which yesterday announced it would move it's primary up to the end of February, was for his campaign.
Romney's only response: "Very."