BASALT, Colo. -- In a strong showing of party unity as he seeks to turn the focus away from his foreign trip and back to the economy, Mitt Romney rallied supporters Thursday night at a campaign event alongside ten of the nation’s GOP governors, including one rumored to be on the presumptive GOP nominee’s short list of potential running mates.
The event -- a forum at which Romney and the governors took turns addressing a high school gymnasium full of several hundred supporters -- took place on the sidelines of the Republican Governors Association’s executive roundtable, a quarterly meeting of the state executives and top GOP donors.
Romney, who is scheduled to appear at an Aspen fundraiser later Thursday night, shared the Basalt High School stage with GOP governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Perry of Texas, Matt Mead of Wyoming, Gary Herbert of Utah. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Jan Brewer of Arizona and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
Jindal is reportedly on Romney’s VP shortlist; several of the others onstage, including Martinez and McDonnell, had been said to be in the mix early on, while Perry was Romney’s former opponent for the GOP presidential nod.
The governors took turns slamming Obama and praising Romney.
Obama “has missed the core issue that has made his presidency fail ... He doesn’t know how to lead,” Christie told the crowd.
“The American people are tired of having a happy song sung to them,” he said, adding that Obama is like a man in a dark room “looking for the light switch of leadership.”
Perry gestured toward Romney and told the crowd that “the difference between the current president of the United States and the next president of the United States is that this man trusts you.”
“Barack Obama does not trust you,” he said.
Romney renewed his argument from earlier in the day that he is the candidate best able to help struggling middle-class voters; attendees were given sheets of paper featuring highlights of Romney’s economic plan.
On the 30-minute flight from Denver to Aspen, Romney responded with a joke when, during a brief appearance at the back of the plane, he was asked by reporters whether he planned to spend time with any potential running mates while in Colorado.
“What? You guys?” Romney, who was holding a McDonald’s bag, asked the assembled members of the press corps. “Sorry guys. I’ve got nothing for you.”
Adding to the VP speculation was the fact that several top campaign aides -- including veep vetter Beth Myers and adviser Kevin Madden -- were traveling with Romney. Aides Charlie Pearce, Amanda Henneberg and Garrett Jackson were also along for the trip; adviser Lanhee Chen briefly appeared before takeoff but was not aboard the flight to Aspen.
On the flight, a senior Romney adviser told reporters that the candidate does not agree with the Medicare cuts in the House GOP budget blueprint and that Romney’s latest plan represented a more detailed articulation of the economic benefits that would result from the candidate’s proposed policies, including the creation of an estimated 12 million new jobs.
The adviser also addressed Title I funding in Romney’s education plan; the proposal, the adviser said, would make no cuts but rather involve “taking the same pool of money and allocating it by student and making sure the student has control over that funding as opposed to the federal government sending it opaquely to a district.”
After the hour-long forum at Basalt High School, at which no audience questions were taken, several governors deflected questions from reporters regarding Romney’s search for a running mate.
Asked whether Romney should choose a governor, Brewer responded, “Another governor? I believe very strongly that whoever Gov. Romney chooses as his vice president, that they will serve our country. I trust Governor Romney with my whole heart and being.”
Martinez told reporters after the event that she believes the decision is entirely Romney’s.
“It’s up to him. ... He’s the only one that matters,” she said.
Jindal turned away reporters’ questions as he exited the venue. And Perry likewise declined to offer Romney advice. Asked for his suggestions, Perry smiled and held up the index fingers of both hands in an “X” shape.
“There are a lot of really capable ones, but I’ll leave that up to Mitt,” he said. “He’ll have that all figured out.”