In a swing through the Tampa area today, Mitt Romney blasted the Obama presidency as "a disappointment" and left town with about $2.3 million — part of an expected $10 million fundraising haul for a two-day Florida swing.
"Help is on the way. We're going to get this country back on track," the Republican told a crowd of a few hundred crammed into a ballroom in downtown St. Petersburg.
"This presidency has been a disappointment. And the people who have been hurt by this disappointment are the American people, and that's why we're going to get him out of office."
Standing in front of a ticking "national debt clock," which hit about $15.7 trillion while he spoke, Romney concentrated most of his speech on what he called President Barack Obama's failure to solve the nation's economic problems.
"By his own measure he's failed," Romney told the crowd, citing what he said were Obama's promises on unemployment and the deficit during the 2008 campaign.
Romney referred repeatedly to former President George W. Bush, who quietly endorsed Romney on Tuesday, but without referring to Bush by name, calling him Obama's "predecessor."
Obama "was very critical of his predecessor for the debts the predecessor put in place," Romney said. "He said doing that was unpatriotic — irresponsible and unpatriotic. He said he would cut the debt in half if he became president. Instead he doubled it."
"It's high time that we have a president who will stop this spending and borrowing inferno, and I will," he said.
Romney said he plans to increase military spending, building more Navy ships, buying more planes and increasing active duty forces. But for the most part, Romney didn't specify what cuts he would make to decrease government spending.
Asked about such cuts in a brief interview, he repeated his view that while Social Security and Medicare benefits shouldn't change for those now retired or nearing it, "higher-income future retirees should have lower benefits than people who are primarily depending on Social Security and Medicare."
The Obama campaign and state Democrats had responses ready for Romney's visit.
Outside Romney's St. Petersburg event, state Rep. Rick Kriseman told reporters that Romney's business background won't work as a qualification for the presidency.
"We just went through that with a candidate for governor whose main qualification was that he was a businessman," the St. Petersburg Democrat said, referring to Gov. Rick Scott. "It hasn't worked out well for us in Florida."
In conference calls with reporters over the past two days, the Obama campaign has attacked Romney's record as CEO of Bain Capital, claiming the private equity firm bought companies, took huge management fees for running them and loaded them up with debt, forcing several into bankruptcy and cutting thousands of jobs.
Former employees of some of those firms are now campaigning with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
"After Romney and his partners took over our company, they closed down both facilities in Miami and 850 workers lost their jobs" while the Bain partners made $250 million, said Cindy Hewitt, a former employee of a Miami medical technology company bought out by Bain, on a conference call.
Following the St. Petersburg speech, Romney went to a fundraiser at Tampa's plush Avila Golf & Country Club, where more than 200 Republicans, most of them high-level donors, had paid $2,500, $10,000 or $50,000 each for a private lunch with Romney.
The Tampa visits were the first two stops in a two-day Florida tour with both public events and private fundraisers. At the Avila event, former Ambassador Mel Sembler, a St. Petersburg developer and prominent GOP fundraiser, said the Tampa event raised $2.3 million, and the two-day swing will generate $10 million.
The fundraising success came even though some major Tampa GOP fundraisers who would normally be at such an event weren't there, including developer Al Austin, because of their work with the local host committee for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Austin and other committee members are avoiding political fundraising because they are raising money for the non-political host committee.
Attendees included Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and incoming state House Speaker Will Weatherford.
Neither Scott, whose popularity ratings in Florida have been dismal, nor Rep. Connie Mack IV, front-runner in Florida's GOP U.S. Senate primary, were at the event. That was because of scheduling, said campaign spokesman Rick Gorka.
Mack has been a staunch supporter of Romney in the Republican presidential primaries both in 2008 and this year, but is now embroiled in a bitterly negative Senate primary.
Although Mack is not campaigning with Romney this week, Romney awarded him coup Wednesday by endorsing him in the Senate race.