OMAHA, Neb. -- Speaking before an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred supporters here Thursday afternoon, Mitt Romney cited a Washington Post story -- about domestic energy production.
That was as close as the GOP frontrunner came to addressing either of the stories that have dominated the campaign over the past 24 hours: a report Thursday morning by The Washington Post’s Jason Horowitz on pranks by Romney in high school that included cutting the hair of a student suspected of being gay, and President Obama’s move Wednesday afternoon to back same-sex marriage.
Romney spoke at length about the Post story in a Fox interview earlier Thursday. In his brief remarks at a riverside restaurant here, he instead stuck to his usual stump speech focused on jobs, the economy and energy production.
“I read an article in the paper, in The Washington Post, where a fellow, Mr. [David] Ignatius, described a study that said we’re going to be the biggest energy producers in the world in 2022, even bigger than Saudi Arabia,” Romney said in arguing against the Obama administration’s energy policy. “These ideas of the past have to be left there.”
In response, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement, “Contrary to Mitt Romney’s dishonest rhetoric today, President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy has helped expand domestic oil production, nearly double the production of renewable electricity, and increase natural gas production to an all-time high.
The United States produces more “energy” now than Saudi Arabia does, counting coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear, and renewables. It produces only 60 percent as much crude oil, and would have to increase output by two-thirds to catch up to current Saudi production.
Romney addressed the overflow crowd shortly after he held a fundraiser at the Hilton down the street. The event, he said he was told, was “the most successful fundraising event that they’ve had in Nebraska.” According to a press pool report, tickets were sold for $250 and $2,500, with a total of 1,000 tickets sold. The campaign did not provide the total amount raised.
Clad in button-down shirt and tie, Romney took a joking demeanor as he spoke to supporters from a makeshift stage in the packed restaurant.
“Who’s paying?” he asked members of the crowd, some of whom were finishing up their lunches as they sat at tables and at the bar.
And after he spotted a young child in the audience, he jokingly told the parents, “I would take a guess as to gender, but when they’re in yellow, I can’t do so.”
The event comes three days before Mother’s Day, and on the same day that Ann Romney wrote an op-ed on the topic in USA Today -- a point the candidate noted at the outset of his speech.
“If you haven’t grabbed USA Today, get it -- or you can go online, USAToday.com,” he said. “I think it’s free.”
Romney likely will have no difficulty in winning deep-red Nebraska in the fall, although Omaha itself is a separate question. Nebraska is one of only two states that award their electoral votes based on congressional district, and four years ago, Obama succeeded in winning Omaha’s one electoral vote.
This year, Obama’s campaign is continuing its efforts in Omaha; the campaign opened up an office in the city this spring and volunteers on Thursday were phonebanking and out organizing, according to campaign officials. The DNC also held an event Thursday to bracket Romney’s fundraiser.
Working to compete with Obama for women voters, Romney on Thursday devoted several minutes of his speech to the issue of motherhood and working women.
He made note of roundtables that he has held with women and told the crowd that his wife was not present because she was spending time with her new grandchildren -- “she spent, I think, four hours holding one child, she said, and three hours holding the other -- and changing diapers and feeding and bottles and all the work that goes on.”
“I just appreciate the mothers of this country, that raised our nation,” Romney added to loud applause.
He was introduced at the event by Gov. Dave Heineman (R), who called Romney “the next president of the United States.”
Heineman said that he agrees with Obama on one thing -- “hope and change, and the best hope and the best change for America would be for Mitt Romney to be the next president of the United States.”
Staff writer Steven Mufson also contributed to this story.
This story has been updated.