Opening his final push to win Nevada's GOP presidential caucuses this weekend, Mitt Romney looked past his Republican opponents Wednesday and aimed at President Barack Obama during a raucous rally in Las Vegas.
"This president has failed the American people," Romney said, accusing Obama of increasing U.S. debt by $1 trillion a year and expanding government. "I'm afraid he's detached from reality. I don't think he really knows what's going on in America."
It was Romney's opening shot as he hit the ground to campaign in Southern and Northern Nevada ahead of the GOP caucuses Saturday. He is expected to win the contest as he did four years ago, which could put him on a glide path toward the GOP nomination after victories in New Hampshire and Florida, two out of four early contests.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was looking to add some Vegas dazzle to his campaign by touting the backing of Donald Trump, who is expected to endorse him today . The billionaire reality TV star has a conservative following and had flirted with running for the White House.
"I will be making a major announcement" at 12:30 p.m. today at Trump International, Trump tweeted Wednesday. "The announcement will pertain to the presidential race."
Gingrich's handlers have been told to clear his schedule around the event, a sideshow that could steal some attention from the rest of the GOP field.
In the morning, Gingrich planned to hold a Las Vegas rally outside Xtreme Manufacturing, which builds heavy equipment. He also was meeting privately with Hispanic business leaders.
Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, was to greet supporters at the Omelet House on Boulder Highway before traveling north to visit Fallon, his campaign said.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also will be campaigning in Northern Nevada, first in Elko at the Indian Colony Gym and then in Reno for an evening rally at the Grand Sierra Resort & Casino.
Romney was scheduled to hold a rally in Reno as well, in the afternoon at The Grove.
Wednesday evening, Romney drew a crowd of about 1,200, packed inside a warehouse at Brady Industries, a wholesale cleaning supplier whose owners are generous GOP donors.
"I'm so happy to be back in Nevada," Romney said to cheers. "What a beautiful place it is," he added, noting its vast deserts and Lake Tahoe.
In his speech, Romney didn't mention any of his three remaining GOP opponents. Instead, he assured the crowd that he was on his way to the White House.
"This time we're gonna win!" Romney said of his second presidential bid.
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and a businessman, said Obama didn't deserve a second term because he hadn't followed through on a promise to fix the economy. Romney said that three years ago, Obama told a "Today" show interviewer, "If I can't turn this economy around in three years, I'll be a one-term" president.
"And we're here to collect," Romney shouted.
"Yeah!" the audience shouted back.
Romney said he has seen retired couples take minimum-wage jobs because they don't have enough savings. And college students and members of the military aren't guaranteed jobs when they graduate or return from war, he added.
Romney said Obama grew the annual debt by $1 trillion a year, calling it "immoral to be spending what we can't possibly pay."
Romney also disagreed with the president's proposal to cut $500 billion from the Pentagon budget. And he criticized the defense secretary's announcement that the United States would withdraw troops from Afghanistan by mid-2014.
"Why in the world do you go to the people you're fighting with and tell them the day you're pulling out our troops?" Romney asked. "He is wrong. We need new leadership in Washington."
The Nevada Democratic Party quickly sent a statement after Romney's speech to criticize him as the wrong answer for Nevada.
"Last time Mitt Romney was in Nevada, he told families losing their homes they were on their own and we should let the foreclosure crisis 'hit the bottom,' " Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange said. "During this visit to a state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation, he refuses to make any apologies for making a fortune as a corporate raider who shut down American plants, ran companies into the ground and sent thousands of jobs overseas. "
GINGRICH IN RENO
Gingrich campaigned in Reno on Wednesday, enthralling 200 cheering supporters by calling for the repeal of "Obamacare," the president's health care program, which includes mandated insurance.
Unlike some recent speeches, Gingrich did not speak entirely negatively about Romney, instead calling all his challengers "my friends" who just have a different perspective on how to improve America.
Gingrich said he was not surprised by his defeat in Florida because he was outspent 5-to-1 by Romney.
"We are going to pit people power against money power in this campaign," Gingrich said. "Governor Romney cannot continue to outspend us 5-to-1."
More than 160,000 people have contributed to his campaign, with 97 percent giving less than $250 each, Gingrich said.
He wants to create jobs for all Americans and said he is concerned about the poor as well as the rich.
"I'm fed up with politicians of either party dividing Americans against each other. I'm concerned about all American people," he said. "My goal is to take steps so every American can find a job."
He drew loud cheers when he said he would dismantle the existing unemployment compensation system, which now allows some unemployed people to receive benefits for 99 weeks.
"We never again will pay somebody for 99 weeks for doing nothing," he said.
PAUL ADDRESSES IMMIGRATION
In Las Vegas, Paul met Wednesday morning with an influential group of Hispanics, telling them he favors an easier path for legal immigration to the United States.
"I just do not believe barbed wire fences and guns on our borders will solve any of our problems," he told a group of about 100 people.
Paul was the only Republican candidate to accept an invitation to speak before Hispanics in Politics and has actively reached out to Latinos.
Paul said he favored legal immigration, though he did not like a lot about so-called amnesty programs that would allow people who have been in this country illegally to gain citizenship.
He said that would be rewarding lawbreakers.
Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel and Review-Journal reporter Richard Lake contributed to this report. Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.