Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the Detroit Economic Club at Ford Field on Friday. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

Romney's policy address to the Detroit Economic Club was a chance to claim momentum for his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, but the optics of his highly anticipated event may have undercut his message.

The candidate, who was born and raised in the Detroit suburbs, spoke to more than 1,000 suited-up business leaders who bought tickets to sit in folding chairs at the 30-yard line of an empty football stadium.

Romney began by telling his captive lunchtime audience: “This is not exciting and barn-burning, but it’s important.” And indeed, his audience’s polite applause was buried by the silence that filled Ford Field, where some 65,000 blue stadium seats sat empty.

“We have not seen a failure to communicate,” he said of President Obama. “We’ve seen a failure to lead, and that’s why I’m running for president. I want to restore America’s promise.”

The former Massachusetts governor said his plan would bring “dramatic and fundamental change” in Washington. He proposed lowering individual income taxes for all working Americans by 20 percent while bringing the corporate tax rate down to 25 percent from 35 percent. He insisted his plan would not increase the nation’s growing deficit.

“Stronger economic growth, spending cuts and broadening the base will offset the reductions,” Romney said.

“This is a plan to get America back on track,” he said. “We talked about tax policy, lowering tax rates to create growth; talked about entitlement reform so our balance sheet gets fixed; spoken about deficit reduction by cutting spending, cutting programs out, sending programs back to the states and making government more efficient.”

View Photo Gallery: Our campaign team documents the 2012 presidential race using the iPhone app Instagram and the hashtag #2012Unfiltered.

The Romney campaign said it was not responsible for selecting Ford Field as a venue. The Detroit Economic Club arranged the event and sold tickets for it. Officials said tickets to two indoor venues sold out quickly, so the club decided to hold the speech at Ford Field.

“I guess we had a hard time finding a large enough place to meet -- and this certainly is,” Romney said at the start of his speech.

The event drew a couple hundred United Auto Workers for a rally in the sleet outside Ford Field. The union members were protesting Romney’s criticism of the auto bailout and his remarks that the automakers instead should have been left to enter bankruptcy proceedings.

The protesters staged a scene on the roof of a nearby parking lot by placing signs bearing letters on the windshields of American-made cars that spelled out: Romney: Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.

United Auto Workers protest Romney’s criticism of the auto bailout on Friday with some creative signage. (Democratic National Committee)

“We should get government out of General Motors so that the future of that company is determined by the demands of the marketplace, not the preferences of bureaucrats in Washington,” Romney said.

The former Massachusetts governor, who was introduced as “a car guy,” spoke repeatedly of his romance with the automobile industry. After a brief question-and answer-session Romney said, “This feels good, being back in Michigan.”

“You know, the trees are the right height,” he continued. “The streets are just right. I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a Dodge truck. So I used to have all three covered.”

A Romney campaign official confirmed that Romney’s wife, Ann, drives two Cadillac SRX crossovers, 2007 and 2010 model years. She uses one at their beach home in San Diego and the other at their primary residence in Belmont, Mass.

A campaign spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for a full inventory of the Romneys’ vehicles.

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