FREMONT, Calif. — Mitt Romney made his first appearance on Thursday in front of the shuttered offices of Solyndra, the bankrupt solar energy company that received $535 million in federal loan guarantees, opening up what will likely be a constant line of attack against the Obama administration’s economic policies.
Romney has accused Obama of not understanding how the “real economy” works and Solyndra has become his Exhibit A.
“Two years ago, President Obama was here to tout this building and this business as a symbol of his stimulus. Well you can see that it’s a symbol of something very different today, it’s a symbol not of success, but of failure,” Romney said. “It’s also a symbol of a serious conflict of interest. An independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded the administration had steered money to friends and family, to campaign contributors.”
Romney, standing in front of the gleaming Solyndra office building which has a red “For Sale” sign hanging on it, said that the building was a symbol of “gross waste.”
“If you look at this building behind us, this is not the kind of building that is filled by private enterprise. This is the kind of enterprise, the kind of building that’s built with a half a billion dollars of tax payer money,” Romney said. “It’s not just the Taj Mahal of corporate headquarters, you probably also heard that inside there are showers that have LCD displays that tell you what the temperature is of the shower water.”
In pushing back against Obama campaign attacks on his record at Bain, Romney and his allies have dubbed Solyndra an example of public equity gone wrong.
The Obama administration provided some $535 million in government loan guarantees to the company, which declared bankruptcy in 2011, firing more than 1,000 workers.
Romney campaign officials kept the details of the visit quiet, saying that they had concerns that Obama supporters would block or disrupt the appearance. In Boston today, Romney supporters shouted down top Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod as he tried to make the case against Romney.
Romney, who on Tuesday earned the 1,144 delegates necessary to clinch the GOP nomination, boarded a press bus Thursday morning in Palo Alto for the trip to the company. When he reached it, he stood across the street from the site.
“I’m afraid the reason that the stimulus has been unsuccessful, that the turnaround has taken so long to occur, that the recovery has been so tepid is that the president fails to understand the basic nature of free enterprise in America,” Romney said. “He thinks that government-dominated decisions like this make America stronger. They make us weaker. They send the wrong message.”
In past speeches, Romney has compared Solyndra to Staples, a company that Bain invested in and has been successful. That investment created 89,000 jobs, according to the Romney campaign.
To underscore Romney’s message, the Republican National Committee released a 22-page report on Solyndra with the subtitle “Corruption at the Heart of the Failed Obama Economic Strategy.” It also released a web video that describes the internal debate in the White House over investing in Solyndra, and portrays Obama as ignoring the warning signs of his top advisors in greenlighting the investments.
“President Obama’s legacy on job creation is making risky bets on companies owned by campaign donors only to see them fail and thousands of people lose their jobs,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus in a statement. “For three years, through his policies and rhetoric, he has shown that he is not only hostile to job creators, but he doesn’t understand how the free market works. The result has been billions of dollars given to failed green energy companies and 39 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent.”
Unemployment numbers for May will be released Friday. Romney aides on Thursday pointed to the Labor Department’s announcement that weekly claims for unemployment assistance saw an uptick of 10,000, a five-week high.
The Obama campaign, which staged a rally in Massachusetts to highlight Romney’s record as governor, said that Republican presidential candidate was ignoring his own record of using taxpayer money.
“As governor, Mitt Romney’s record was one of dismal job creation, outsourcing, increased spending, and the highest per capita debt in the nation,” said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokesman. “Now, he’d cede the clean energy industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that come with it to China in order to please his Big Oil campaign donors, including keeping massive tax cuts for the oil industry on the middle class’ dime. Massachusetts couldn’t afford Romney Economics, and America can’t either.