PORTSMOUTH, VA -- Looking to preempt President Obama's first official campaign rally in the state this weekend, Mitt Romney hammered the president's record and rhetoric today, accusing him of pushing energy prices up, weakening the military and casting blame for a tepid economic recovery elsewhere.
“The president is going to be here on Saturday,” Romney said to boos from a crowd of several hundred at a marine construction company in Portsmouth. “He’s going to be kicking off his campaign here. And you know there are two things you can expect from him, at least: Number one is a lot of blame. Alright, he’ll be pointing around because he doesn’t want to talk about his own record and his own failures. He’ll instead be trying to find other people to blame."
Romney renewed his attack on President Obama's energy policy today, saying the president's policies have made it harder for Americans to take advantage of home-grown energy sources, and accusing the administration of dragging it's feet in approving exploration permits for oil and gas drilling off Virginia's coast, while quickly funding pet projects like failed solar company Solyndra.
"The Department of Interior says they’re studying it. Studying it. Didn’t study very long to get the money, $500 million, to Solyndra, did they? They got that out in a big hurry.” Romney said.
The Obama campaign responded to the swipe, accusing Romney of looking to steamroll environmental review processes for the benefit of his supporters in energy industry, and of deploying rhetoric "as reckless as it was dishonest."
In attacking the president's stewardship of the economy, Romney mocked the new advertising slogan "Forward," rolled out by the Obama campaign earlier this week.
"This president says he wants to lead [the country] forward. If the last three and a half years are his definition of forward I'd hate to see what backward looks like," Romney said.
Romney also tried to appeal to Virginia's large military and veteran populations, accusing the president of gutting military spending, while promising to increase naval shipbuilding and military spending (a goal some analysts have said may be incompatible with his tax cut and balanced-budget plans).
"This president," Romney said, "is intent on reducing our commitment to our military, cutting our military spending."
Romney brought two Republican heavyweights out from his corner today to help in pummeling the president, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, and Rep. Michele Bachmann, who formally endorsed Romney's candidacy just today.
Bachmann, who battered Romney for his support for a health care mandate in Massachusetts during the primary season, today praised her former presidential rival, and vigorously worked the crowd on his behalf after vowing to "lend my voice and my endorsement" to the cause of electing the former Massachusetts Governor.
McDonnell, who campaigned with Romney earlier this year in South Carolina and Virginia, and who attended a fundraiser with him last night in Arlington, also stepped up his attacks against President Obama in what many political observers said was yet another audition for a possible Romney vice president.
"Remember three and a half years ago we heard that tune about hope and change?" McDonnell asked the crowd during his introduction to Romney. "Now what do we have? We have recession, division and malaise. Its time for a change, don't you think?"
Despite declaring himself more than happy with his current job (which he is prevented by term limit laws from seeking again in 2014), McDonnell has remained high on the speculative Romney shortlist due to his popularity in a prominent swing state, his military background and his early and strong support for Romney.
"I think they would be an excellent, excellent pair," Martha Stevens, and administrative manager from Newport news said.
Asked if she thought McDonnell's support for a controversial bill limiting abortion rights might hurt McDonnell's appeal to women, Stevens conceded it might, but on the question of whether McDonnell would bring enough punch to the GOP ticket, she was bullish.
"We don't need to be entertained. We need to have someone there that knows the facts and has a plan and can help us get back to the America that is working and can feel good about itself," she said.
Kevin Walker, a defense contractor and registered independent who said he planned to support Romney this fall, was less impressed with the idea of his governor as Romney's running mate.
"I don't know what he brings to the party," Walker shrugged.